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Trade secret protection: What's all the seriousness about?

Smart business principals and start-up entrepreneurs in California and elsewhere routinely emphasize forward movement. They do so for obvious reasons, of course. They know that expanding their operations and market reach cannot be accomplished without constant innovation.

That enduring develop-or-languish business truth is underscored in one online source discussing commercial development strategies. It warns that “complacency renders companies obsolete.”

Trade secrets: What are they, and why are they important?

Astute business managers know that their proprietary ideas and information are the catalysts driving performance and profit. Such intellectual property is collectively termed “trade secrets.”

Those secrets need to be safeguarded -- or else. Imagine a situation where a key company process or formula becomes known to a competitor (inadvertent disclosure comes to mind, as well as bad-faith interaction between an employee and a rival). The consequences of that could be devastating. In fact, they often are for legions of enterprises across the country.

A central point to note concerning trade secrets is that they comprise a broad universe. The ideas and information cited above encompass in any given case product designs and unpatented processes and inventions. Documents, blueprints, training manuals, test results, customer lists, financial information – courts often consider all these things and more to be trade secrets.

The core question that often attaches to them is this: Are they protected against disclosure and infringement?

How can company principals protect trade secrets?

That query posed immediately above is not exactly a loaded question, but it does invite an answer stressing a comprehensive and methodical company strategy.

Business owners/managers should immediately note this about their most prized internal information: Simply saying it’s a trade secret doesn’t make it so.

What likely will, though, is timely, recurrent and knowledgeable input from proven attorneys. A legal team commanding broad experience helping valued and diverse commercial clients with intellectual property matters can help ensure that a company’s trade secrets are fully identified and safeguarded. It will work closely with managers to develop protection policies, which will necessarily include the following types of things:

  • Company trade secret protection policy
  • Development of employee-targeted training/education underscoring how to identify trade secrets and properly handle them
  • Timely worker communications concerning proprietary data, including at pre-hiring and termination stages
  • Execution of legal contracts (especially confidentiality agreements) that set forth relevant processes, restrictions and language addressing violations for breach

The strategies applicable to spotlighting trade secrets and sheltering them from third-party infringement will vary from case to case. Having a well-developed plan is vital for any company that thrives on innovation and next-step business strategies.

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