Trade Secrets and Intellectual Property

Your trade secrets are intellectual property. According to U.S. law, a trade secret is a device, idea, process, formula or pattern that provides you with a competitive advantage in your industry. As a business owner and the person who owns the information, you must treat the information in a way that prevents the public and competitors from acquiring it. 

If you worry about trade secret infringement, it is important to know the basics of your rights and how you can enforce those rights if you suspect someone has stolen your information. 

What types of information can you protect? 

While copyrights, trademarks and patents are well-known forms of intellectual property, you may know less about trade secrets. However, trade secrets are another valuable form of protection for technical or private information. Here are some examples of trade secrets: 

  • An idea for a process or product that gives you a competitive advantage over the competition 
  • Personal business information such as cost estimates, business plans or customer lists 
  • Virtually any information that offers value but is not widely known by the public or by your competitors 

How can you protect the trade secrets of your business? 

You cannot simply call an idea a “trade secret” and expect it to remain confidential. As a business owner, you must act in a way that proves the value of the information and your desire to keep it confidential. While some companies go to great lengths to protect information, making sensible decisions is enough for most businesses. 

Proper precautions include putting sensitive trade materials in a secure location after business hours, maintaining recommended computer security measures and providing sensitive information to essential personnel only. All of these actions clearly indicate your desire to maintain confidentiality. 

How can you enforce your rights if someone infringes upon your trade secret? 

Virtually every state has a law that prohibits the stealing of trade secrets. If you think someone has stolen a trade secret of your business, you can ask a court of law to issue an injunction. This order prevents the further use or disclosure of the secret. You can also file a lawsuit to collect damages if the infringement caused economic damage or suffering.