Trade secrets can be in the form of a formula, device, process or information that is used by a business to earn income or generate value. The Uniform Trade Secrets Act defines trade secrets as pieces of information that have value because they are not well known and can be reasonably maintained as a secret. It is nearly always in the best interests of a business to protect trade secrets, but it is easier said than done. Here are some helpful tips to start the conversation about protecting a business’s trade secrets:
- Identify your secrets: This involves looking at business practices and come up with protocols to determine what needs to remain a secret. Focus on the important rather than sweeping protection that may be too broad to ensure strong protection.
- Label your documents: If it is sensitive information, make sure to indicate that it is “confidential” to the employees involved. Limit copies and circulation of these documents.
- Properly store the information: Determine where the information can be safely stored, take steps to monitor who has and who gets access to the information. Look for weak spots in that storage, whether it is computers, diskettes or hard copies.
- Computers need passwords: Computers containing sensitive information are lost or stolen all the time, so it is always best to utilize passwords (the stronger the better).
- Hold vendors accountable: This can be difficult, particularly when working internationally, but there should be strict well-considered provisions in vendor contracts. It is generally best to divide the necessary knowledge amongst different vendors to ensure that none of these partners has all the information.
- Set up training for employees: Educate employees about how to recognize and handle sensitive information. Hold employees accountable with clear protocols for those who do not act accordingly. Hold exit audits and recover any sensitive information, such as a work laptop.
Attorneys can evaluate and strengthen trade secrets
Law firms with experience handling trade secrets, intellectual property as well as business and employment law can be extremely helpful in ramping up the protection of sensitive information so it does not fall into the hands of competitors. If that does happen, these protocols can also provide a legal course of action for the company and its legal team.