One of the biggest threats your business may face is trade secrets infringement
One of the biggest threats your business may face is trade secrets infringement. If you run a business with a unique service, special recipes, or another exclusive entity that separates your ideas from others, protecting your secrets is paramount. Otherwise, you might attract competition that could quickly put you out of business.
Understanding Trade Secrets
Many in the business industry don’t have a lot of knowledge regarding intellectual property (IP) rights. They understand the basics of patents and copyrights, but the rest can be a bit of a blur.
Trade secrets can be particularly confusing. Your trade secrets include ideas, products, processes, and the like that require money and time to develop. In order to maintain your competitive advantage, you don’t want competitors to know about them.
These secrets are often unwritten, and it’s easy to let them slip. A seemingly innocent comment on social media, for example, can let competitors in on valuable information. Though it’s less common, these secrets can also be taken by disgruntled employees or competition in pursuit of your secrets.
Understanding exactly what your trade secrets are and the importance of protecting them is your first line of defense for this highly valuable intellectual property.
Protect Your Trade Secrets
If you don’t protect your property, there’s not much to be done from a legal standpoint. It’s important to develop a strong policy and contingency plan to safeguard your ideas. Here are some basic tips to get you started:
Legal Documents and Agreements
Organizations should start by developing a list of trade secrets. Brainstorm any ideas, processes, products, etc. that should be protected under intellectual property rights.
Next, consult a lawyer to develop contracts and agreements that prevent employees from sharing the information under penalty of law. This step will make your IP clear so there can be no confusion about what shouldn’t be shared.
Additionally, creating these legal documents protects you if you enter a court dispute. If you have a legal document that shows you recognized a trade secret as such by a certain date, you can claim ownership over your ideas and prevent others from stealing them.
Better Employee Training
In most instances, trade secrets are revealed by simple, inadvertent transfers of information. Employees (or even bosses) don’t realize they’re releasing valuable information.
Simple training procedures can reduce this risk. Use the list you developed in the previous step to identify trade secrets with employees and remind them of the repercussions for sharing them with unauthorized personnel.
A big part of improving employee training should be restricting information to only those who need to know. It might seem old fashioned, but some things should be kept confidential from employees who don’t have a certain level of “clearance.”
A very important document for any organization with trade secrets is the nondisclosure agreement. Basically, this is a legally binding document with a non-compete provision that can prevent former employees from taking your ideas and selling them or creating their own businesses.
It’s true that it’s hard to prove breach of nondisclosure agreements, but it’s still a good safety measure to have in place. More often than not, this agreement will prevent others from stealing your ideas and creating competition you can’t fight.
In some cases, you might consider claiming a trademark over an idea, product, process, etc. If you decide this is right for you, you’ll file a statutory trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, entitling your company to use your idea in any state.
Trademarks are expensive and time-consuming, so they may not be the right option in every case. However, it can be a good step for those in a highly competitive market who want to establish themselves as an authority.
Protecting your trade secrets is a vital step in protecting your organization and limiting competition. Safeguarding your organization and the value it offers will reduce risk and prevent major IP problems in the future.