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How can I protect my trade secrets?

Trade secrets are as diverse as the businesses they belong to. Lists of customers, recipes, methods of operation, formulas, and pricing can all have a real impact on the success of your enterprise and can result in loss of profits if this information falls into the hands of competitors. There are steps you can take to protect trade secrets, as explained by the U.S. Small Business Association.

Know what your trade secrets are

Why all startups must have intellectual property protection

Your fledgling business is just taking off, but things already look promising. You have the drive, innovation and commitment to be an entrepreneur, and you are confident about your business's prospects.

These traits are crucial to every entrepreneur, but there is one other crucial aspect that your startup must have to succeed: intellectual property protection.

How long do my intellectual rights last?

When it comes to intellectual property, you have to look to the federal government for protection, not the state of California. While the state provides some intellectual property protections, the federal government mandates very specific protections and limits on those protections. Each type of intellectual property is protected in a different way. While some may have lasting protection, others have protection limited to a specific number of years.

One of the most common forms of intellectual property rights is the copyright. StopFakes.gov explains that a copyright granted after January 1, 1978, lasts for 70 years after the author dies. However, if the copyright is on made-for-hire works, then it lasts 85 years from first publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter.

What is a non-disclosure agreement?

As a business owner in California, you know ideas are worth their weight in gold. That is why it is so important that you safeguard your most valuable ideas when sharing information with others. Forbes explains how non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) offer such protection, while also detailing the key elements of these documents.

When crafting these documents, there are a few important considerations to make. For instance, all NDAs should have a well-defined term. This is the length of time the agreement will be active, which usually ranges from two to five years. An NDA could be enacted to last a lifetime, although this term tends to incur a higher cost, while also potentially being unable to be enforced.

Horizontal agreements that could hinder your company's success

When you are looking for new ways to make your company competitive in your industry, one of the methods you may choose is to collaborate with other competitors to achieve a broader purpose. At Wang IP Law Group, we have helped many of our clients in California to work their way through complex business litigation. 

When you are forming horizontal agreements with other industry experts in your field, the advantages can be many, including the fact that you may access core competencies that you may not have. Utilizing another company's resources and strengths may be an invaluable way for you to further your initiatives and work toward a more successful outcome. However, certain agreements can potentially have legal consequences if they are found to be a source of unfair competition with other competitors. 

Broad spectrum of strategies tends to deliver optimal IP value

Many would agree that success in business starts with a unique idea. You don't have to be the first to have the idea. It is more important to be the first person to formally register the idea. This is where working with an intellectual property attorney comes into play.

Simply securing IP rights through the government does not ensure you will realize the full financial potential of this intangible asset, however. A reliable IP attorney, especially one adept in managing assets, can take advantage of opportunities as they develop and prove beneficial to your business.

Can a stolen trade secret be saved?

As a strong competitor in your industry in California, you have worked relentlessly to develop trade secrets that have given you an edge on your competition. As such, you have carefully trained your employees who have access to this confidential information to protect its sensitivity and privacy. However, it is imperative that you plan for the worst-case scenario so you can be prepared should such valued information ever become compromised. 

According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, a trade secret such as the one you are working tirelessly to protect, can take on a variety of forms including the following:

  • Pattern
  • Software
  • Formula
  • Technique
  • Compilation
  • Process

What is a cease and desist letter?

One of the most common responses to a violation of intellectual property rights is to send a cease and desist letter. According to QuickBooks, this type of letter informs a person that he or she is violating your intellectual property rights by using your protected material.

Sending the letter is generally a first move to ensure the person knows that he or she is violating your rights. In some cases, this may be all that is needed to get someone to stop using your property as their own.

False advertising as a deceptive trade practice

Starting and growing a business in California is challenging and time-consuming. One way many businesses attract customers is through different forms of advertising. Unfortunately, some companies use misleading information, or even outright lies, to gain unfair competition over others. The good news is there are both federal and state laws that prohibit this type of deceptive trade practice, and businesses can take legal action if they are a victim of these false ads.  

According to the Chron, there are a number of ways businesses promote themselves unethically. For example, using celebrity endorsement without his or her permission is considered false advertising. Some other types include:

  • Unsubstantiated claims - a company may not advertise atypical results unless it states they are not normal in the marketing materials
  • False client testimonials - a business changes a real customer testimonial or has an employee write one as the client 
  • Bait and switch - advertising a low-priced product and then up-selling the customer or not having the advertised product available 

What is the Madrid Protocol?

Protecting your intellectual property can be difficult. This is especially true when you are dealing with securing worldwide protection. When it comes to trademarks, the process has been made easier by the Madrid Protocol. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the Madrid Protocol is an agreement of multiple countries to honor applications through one single general form.

This means that you can file a form for trademark protection with the USPTO and send it to other countries to request protection there. It is important to understand that even though you are using one application, each country must approve it before you have protection in that country.

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