Workers switch jobs, it is one of the things that helps to keep markets competitive. But what happens when a worker takes more than their skills with them? What happens if they take your business’ trade secrets?
Business leaders that find themselves in this situation can benefit by taking the following three steps.
Step 1: Define trade secret
It helps to properly define the intellectual property item or items at issue. A trade secret is private information that is essential to business operations. It has economic value, and the business must take reasonable steps to protect it for it to qualify as a trade secret. Common examples include a formula or process.
Step 2: Review protections
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) expects the business to take a number of steps to protect their trade secrets. Physical security is important. The USPTO defines physical security for trade secrets to include visitor protocol to limit public or otherwise unapproved access to the trade secret, use of ID badges or other means to control access to the trade secret and a log of access.
It is also important to have cyber security measures in place and to properly dispose of documents related to the trade secret to reduce the risk of access through dumpster diving.
If you believe your trade secret was misappropriated, review these protections to see where the breach occurred. If due to a worker taking the information, consider legal action outlined in step 3.
Step 3: Pursue remedies
Legal remedies are likely available but often depend on the level of protection you put in place. In a recent example that highlights the reach of these remedies, Google was able to hold one of their former engineers accountable for taking thousands of sensitive files with him when he left for a new job with Uber Technologies Inc. Because the breach was serious, Google involved law enforcement. The accused now faces years of imprisonment as well as financial penalties.
In addition to the potential for criminal remedies, civil remedies that can benefit your business can include:
- Protective orders. You can ask the court to order the accused to cease any sharing of the trade secret at issue.
- Damages. The court may also grant additional monetary awards in an attempt to make up for financial losses resulting from the misappropriation.
Depending on the details of the case and the wishes of the parties, resolution for misappropriation of trade secret cases is generally reached through either litigation or negotiations.