As a company owner, you know that some of your most important assets are intangible, such as your knowledge and ideas. Protecting those intangibles often involves acquiring and enforcing intellectual property rights, such patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Failing to do so could give your competitors an advantage and leave you without legal recourse if your valuable intellectual property is used without your authorization.
Protecting your trade secrets, for example, requires that you first determine whether your company has trade secrets. A trade secret could be any information from which a business derives economic value because the information is not publicly known, and the business takes reasonable steps to keep the information a secret. In general, any aspect of your business (such as formulas, methods of manufacturing goods or performing services, processes, etc.) that has commercial value can be considered a trade secret. An example of a trade secret is the formula for Coca-Cola®. Once you have pinned down what your company’s trade secrets are, the next step is to put measures in place to keep them under wraps. For example, train your employees about what the trade secrets are and the need to keep them confidential. Consider having your employees sign non-disclosure agreements. Keep trade secret information password protected, with access limited to those with a need to know. And make sure to routinely re-educate and re-train employees regarding your company’s trade secret rights.
If you suspect that someone has “misappropriated,” or taken, your trade secrets, you should act quickly to enforce your company’s rights. Trade secrets may be enforced under state law or under a new federal law enacted in 2016 called the Defend Trade Secrets Act. Under either state or federal law, successfully proving trade secret misappropriation will typically allow your company to stop the wrong-doer from further use of the trade secret and to recover money to compensate your company for the harm done. While state and federal trade secret laws are very similar, there are some significant differences you will need to know before pursuing legal action. Consult an attorney about those differences and other important legal aspects of trade secret enforcement.