When learning how to get trade secret protection, it's important to have guidelines in place to protect your company.

Protecting Your Business's Trade Secrets

Trade secrets are any type of information that is unique and of importance to your business. People outside of your business are unaware of this information. This term also describes information that you cannot copyright, trademark, or patent. But the information also provides you with an advantage over your competition.

Trade secrets remain protected under state and federal laws. Keep these tips in mind when establishing the secrets.

  • Trade secrets must be secrets. The information isn't readily available to the public and your competition. Any information you give voluntarily cannot be a trade secret unless you have people sign a confidentiality agreement. In most instances, you must use a written label, sticker, or stamp to classify the secrets.
  • Limit access to trade secret information. Only give the information on a need-to-know basis. Create secure passwords if you store information on computers. Consider shredding important documents and obliterate or wipe information on computer hard drives.
  • Stake ownership claim. Do not assume that anything you, your employees, or your contractors develop is automatically yours. Use employee contracts to specify the rights of these trade secrets.
  • Use non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) with employees and contractors. This gives you legal protection for your company if anyone shares your trade secrets. Anyone who receives a check from your company should sign an NDA.

Filing for a Patent vs. Keeping Your Invention a Trade Secret

Trade secrets get their legal protection from their secret nature, while patents receive protection through public disclosure. To determine if a patent or trade secret works better for your company, determine if it is patentable or meets the legal requirements to receive a patent. If it does, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will the invention remain useful after 20 years?
  • Can other companies reverse engineer it?
  • Is the invention part of the product itself or part of an internal manufacturing process?
  • Could someone invent this invention in the future?
  • Can you find the product in a public environment?

Implementing a Trade Secrets Protection Program

If you want to implement a trade secrets protection program, you should identify the information that you want to protect and determine the security protocols you can use to protect the information.

When dealing with any type of corporate espionage, you must address employment relationships, control access to your trade secrets, and know your employees. A confidentiality agreement has several purposes:

  • It acknowledges that employees have access to specific trade secrets and other confidential information.
  • It recognizes that this information has some degree of particularity.
  • It limits unauthorized use of this information.
  • It deems the return of all trade secrets and confidential information once employees leave and requires them to sign a termination certificate.

A non-solicitation agreement bars a departing employee from soliciting specific customers or clients or doing business with them. A non-compete agreement protects customers or potential customers and business interests that a company has cultivated. It also protects confidential information that can cause financial distress to the company.

Current employees and new hires should sign implement policies, which address the usage of computers and the internet, access to trade secrets, and employee privacy concerns. Train your employees and new hires in security awareness, policies, and procedures.

You can protect your company by following a few steps:

  • Restrict access to routers, servers, and other network technology.
  • Install surveillance equipment to monitor server access.
  • Keep server rooms that contain sensitive equipment locked.
  • Check for missing equipment periodically.
  • Designate trade secret documents as "confidential."
  • Shred all paper documents that have confidential information.

You can also protect your critical system resources by implementing the following:

  • Make all employees have passwords to gain access.
  • Demand that all passwords have multiple characters.
  • Require employees to change passwords every 60 days.
  • Place controls on employees' use of the internet and downloadable software.

Strategies for Protecting Trade Secrets

To help you protect your trade secrets, you should designate one person responsible for implementing an enforcing the trade secret compliance programs. You should also make trade secret protection part of the employee orientation and training program.

Limit the disclosure of confidential information and trade secrets to those who really need to know the information. Ensure all employment, independent contractor, sales, and license agreements include confidentiality provisions.

If you need help on how to get trade secret protection, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Stripe, and Twilio.