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Protecting your trade secrets: A primer

Whether you have a secret formula that makes your restaurant's barbecue sauce extra-special or you've developed a special computer program that greatly benefits your clients in some way, your trade secrets are important to you.

To protect your trade secrets' value, you need to take reasonable measures to protect them. If you don't, not only may some errant visitor or disgruntled employee walk out the door with the keys to your success, but you could lose the right to do anything about it. To guard you trade secrets:

1. Identify them.

Narrowly construe the definition of "trade secret" so that you can definitively explain (if need be) why it is both essential to your business and needs to remain a secret.

2. Label them.

You can't toss a secret formula into a nondescript file folder and reasonably expect it to be treated with the utmost care. Label your trade secrets as confidential to make sure that they're easier to separate from other information.

3. Limit access.

Access to trade secrets should really be on a "need-to-know" basis. For example, you and your business partner and the chef may be the only people who actually need access to your secret barbecue sauce recipe.

4. Control access.

Take the necessary steps to limit the exposure of your trade secrets to other employees, consultants, independent contractors, business associates and the public. For example, if your chef is making a batch of the secret barbecue sauce, there's no good reason for anybody to be in the kitchen at the same time.

5. Get agreements.

Your employees, consultants and independent contractors should all be bound by confidentiality agreements that protect your trade secrets. The threat of economic and legal sanctions can help secure your secrets - and establish a high-security atmosphere around your intellectual property.

If your trade secrets are stolen (or their ownership is somehow in question), don't try to work things out on your own. It takes an experienced attorney to protect your trade secrets. Our attorneys have the experience that you need when there's a crisis that threatens your business and will aggressively protect your interests.

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