FindLaw KnowledgeBasePublished: 2013-01-04
Intellectual property might be in the form of trade secrets. This includes include any method, formula or information that creates a competitive benefit.
Under the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, the law protects a trade secret only to the extent that the owner has made "efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain its secrecy." For this reason, it is imperative to demonstrate that your company recognized your specific formula, method or information as a trade secret.
As a trade secret owner, you do not want to make the mistake of waiting until your intellectual property is at risk before taking actions to protect it. Furthermore, preventive measures may reduce the chance that a previous or current employee will disclose such information. Ultimately, if someone discloses or uses your trade secrets, then proof that you, the employer, considered this information as classified and took steps to ensure its confidentiality will be crucial.
How to protect your trade secrets: Inform your employees
How should you protect your trade secrets? In accordance with the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, you should identify any information that your company considers confidential as private. To do so, you can place the material in a separate file or place a “confidential and proprietary” stamp on the information.
Next, you should have all employees (including contractors) execute confidentiality agreements as a condition of employment. This agreement should contain a definition of trade secrets, how employees may use such property and the relief that the company could pursue if the employee were to break the agreement.
To ensure the confidentiality of such secrets, your company should schedule regular meetings with employees to remind them about what information the company considers confidential and why such material should be kept a secret.
Furthermore, you should limit access to the trade secrets. You can use strategies, such as password protection, to ensure that only employees who need the information have access to the material.
You should also require vendors, suppliers and potential customers to sign non-disclosure agreements regarding the confidential information that is made available to them. A non-disclosure agreement is similar to a confidentiality agreement; however, vendors, suppliers and potential customers typically sign such agreements.
Finally, the best way to protect important information is to create an overall understanding among employees that any confidential information created by the company belongs to the business. For example, once an employee’s relationship with the company ends, request all confidential materials from the person.
These are just a few ways to ensure that your intellectually property is kept safe. Some laws may differ, depending on your specific state. For this reason, your company may benefit from retaining assistance from a qualified business law attorney. A lawyer can ensure that your protection policies are in accordance with trade secret laws.