Intellectual property protection typically brings to mind the triumvirate of copyright, trademark and patent law. However, not all of your valuable proprietary information will fall into these three categories. Trade secret protection is an important alternative to understand as you shore up your intellectual property protection.
The precise language by which a trade secret is defined varies by jurisdiction, as do the particular types of information that are subject to trade secret protection. In Oregon, “trade secret” means information, including a drawing, cost data, customer list, formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique or process that: (a) Derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to the public or to other persons who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use; and (b) Is the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain its secrecy. Or. Rev. Stat. Secs. 646.461 et seq.
Some common examples of business-related information that are subject to trade secret protection:
- Customers’ identities
- Marketing strategy
- Price lists
- Identities of suppliers
- Budgets and resource allocations
All of these types of information can give you a competitive business edge…so long as they don’t fall into the hands of your competitors. In order to maintain your trade secrets, it’s often necessary to have in place a company trade secret policy. Such a policy should include at least the following:
- Have all employees, contractors, outside consultants or anyone else who may be exposed to sensitive information sign a confidentiality agreement. Consider making it a part of your employment contracts.
- Keep sensitive material locked in a safe place, accessible only to those on a “need-to-know” basis.
- Limit the circulation of confidential documents.
- Clearly designate confidential documents as SECRET or CONFIDENTIAL.
- Periodically review your trade secret policy with employees.
Your company likely has valuable, confidential information that should be protected as a trade secret. Consider consulting a trade secret professional to help your company establish a secure trade secret policy.