Trade secrets are very special type of intellectual property. Any secret business information that gives a company a competitive edge qualifies as a trade secret. Unlike other forms of intellectual property, trade secrets are special because there is no limit to the time that you can hold onto its rights.
That said, they can also be gone in a literal flash. Holding onto a trade secret is entirely based on keeping it confidential. The moment this important information becomes public, it no longer qualifies as a trade secret. Therefore, the goal for anyone holding a trade secret is to protect the information at all costs.
Determining the best forms of protection is key to maintaining the edge your trade secret provides.
The most basic and easiest way to protect your trade secret is to monitor the information. Your goal here is to know the exact location of the confidential data as well as who within your company has access to it.
Observing potential weak spots and determining how to properly control them is also a key aspect of monitoring information. Conducting consistent audits is another good way to assure that your trade secret does not leak to the public.
The location where you store your trade secret may require physical security. There are a variety of ways to accomplish this task. Depending on the size of your business and the amount of money at stake, you may want to include several forms of protection.
This could mean anything from a simple lock on the file cabinet containing your trade secret to barbwire fences surrounding special doors that allow exclusive access to employees with key cards. You could also hire security personnel in charge of limiting who enters your building. It is all a matter of figuring out what is right for your specific situation and how valuable the trade secret is to your business practices.
Physical security is often not enough in contemporary society. With how important and prevalent computers have become, you may want to have special protection software enabled as well. This may be as simple as having every employee sign in with a strong password to downloading special software to block out hackers.
If you use a computer network to store confidential information, make sure you consider taking the necessary measures to assure that your information will not become public if theft occurs.
Secrecy with vendors
Does your business work with outside vendors? Are you required to disclose your trade secret to vendors in order to build your product or conduct business affairs? If so, it’s important to include a confidentiality provision within your agreement. You do not want to find yourself in a situation where business goes south, and your company is at the mercy of someone who previously worked with your confidential information.
If applicable, you may also want to disclose each piece of your trade secret to a different vendor. This provides the inherent protection of only allowing access to a part of your secret as opposed to the finished product.
If you are lucky enough to be in business for a long period of time, it is likely that you will see plenty of turnover with your staff. For this reason, it is strongly recommended to have all employees who work closely with your trade secret sign a non-disclosure agreement. This allows you to protect your trade secret against disgruntled former employees.
Protecting your trade secret is extremely important to the future of your business. Make sure to consider as many or few forms of protection necessary to keep it safe from the public eye.