The world of technology is constantly changing – often at lightning speed. However, some hardware and software developers fail to realize that their latest design or development method is a trade secret. For entrepreneurs within the tech industry, protecting trade secrets is worthwhile because trade secrets are an important part of keeping tech companies competitive.
Examples of trade secrets
If you or one of your employees figures out a way to manufacture your products in a more cost-effective manner, that method can be considered a trade secret. Other examples of trade secrets include the following:
- A design or schematic
- Customer contact information
- Company financial information or marketing information
- Company sales plans
However, trade secrets are not protected in the same way that patents or trademarks are. Rather, firms need to take reasonable steps, such as training and security protocols. Trade secret protection can potentially be achieved or heightened by employees signing nondisclosure agreements to keep trade secret information confidential.
Nondisclosure agreements legally obligate those who sign them to keep certain information confidential. However, if you are a startup company, it is vital to realize that employees aren’t the only people who may need to sign nondisclosure agreements regarding the startup’s trade secrets. Startup companies may also need to have nondisclosure agreements signed by:
- Business partners
- Outside vendors
With these written agreements in place, anyone who violates a nondisclosure agreement can be sued. Essentially, a nondisclosure agreement gives companies the opportunity to try to recoup damages from how much revealing those trade secrets cost the business. Additionally, the nondisclosure agreement can help cover what damage was caused if an employee brought those trade secrets to another company.
Controlling electronic and physical access
Another equally important aspect of keeping trade secrets confidential and protecting intellectual property is managing the electronic or physical accessibility to them. Electronically, trade secret defense can come in the form of having strong IT security systems that only allow electronic access to those who have permission to and need the trade secret information.
For any trade secrets that can be physically accessed, it is recommended to keep the secrets in monitored and locked up areas. For example, locked cabinets can provide physical security for trade secret documentation and any printed preliminary designs.
Other protection tips
There are many other steps companies could take to heighten security around maintaining their trade secrets as confidential. For example, other reasonable steps we would recommend for companies to do is to:
- Train employees, contractors, and vendors to clarify to them what specific information you consider confidential
- Appoint someone, or a small group of employees, to oversee your trade secret protection policies and train them on the company protocol for what to do if they discover trade secrets have been compromised
- Continue to evaluate your processes and security systems, upgrading them as needed, to protect confidential information
Through being proactive, entrepreneurs will have a better chance at protecting their respective company’s trade secrets. Furthermore, entrepreneurs can continue to give their company a competitive edge through developing more trade secrets.
If you have any questions about what may qualify as a trade secret or if you have a patent or trademark concern, contact the Wang IP Law Group so you can protect your intellectual property.