BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) _ Tropicana Products Inc. announced Monday that it has dropped its suit against a former engineer who defected to competitor Minute Maid, a division of the Coca-Cola Co.

Tropicana dismissed the 7-month-old suit after learning from attorneys for Coca-Cola that Richard A. Hamilton's relationship with Minute Maid was terminated on Oct. 1, Tropicana spokesman Steve Gold said in a news release.

Tropicana was notified of Coke's decision Thursday, he said.

''We would categorize the whole thing as very unfortunate,'' said Michelle Beale, vice president for public affairs with Coca-Cola Foods.

''We released Mr. Hamilton from employment in October because Tropicana had received a temporary injunction which restricted him from practicing his expertise in citrus. We're in the process of trying to work with him through an outplacement service,'' she added.

Suit was filed last March to prevent Hamilton from disclosing Tropicana's ''trade secrets and secret processes'' to his new bosses at Coca-Cola.

Tropicana claimed its 30 percent share of the market hinged on its pasteurized, fresh-tasting ''Pure Premium'' juice product, which competitors hadn't been able to duplicate. If Hamilton were to disclose what he knew to Minute Maid it would cause ''lasting and irreparable harm to Tropicana,'' the company said in its court filings.

The company claimed when Hamilton left he expressed an ''intense dislike of Tropicana and stated he would 'get' the company.''

A state judge granted Tropicana's request for a temporary injunction in late March.

At the time, a Coca-Cola spokeswoman said any attempts to get proprietary information was against company policy.

On Oct. 1, Florida's stiff new Uniform Trade Secret Act took effect, raising penalties for those who improperly divulge or receive the trade secrets of another.

Hamilton, an engineer for Tropicana Products Inc., from Dec. 6, 1982, to March 4 was involved in secret processes that enable Tropicana to produce its pure premium brand orange juice.

In early 1988, Tropicana became aware of industry reports that Coke's Minute Maid division intended to produce a pasteurized orange juice to compete with Pure Premium.

''Tropicana has devoted 40 years to producing the highest quality product available anywhere, not just in orange juice but in all its juice beverages,'' said Brent Gabler, vice president of manufacturing for Tropicana.

''We simply could not stand by and allow the results of 40 years of work to suddenly reach the hands of our competition. We are very grateful that the Florida Legislature is aware of the needs of companies which have developed sophisticated processes to protect their trade secrets,'' Gabler said.