Whether you’re already a successful California business owner or a budding entrepreneur, you likely consider protecting your assets a high priority. When it comes to business, not all assets are physical property. In fact, many creative thinkers have built an entire business market around intellectual and digital properties and products. In short, you need to worry about more than money when focusing on protecting your business rights and interests.
It’s equally important to protect your trade secrets as well. This type of asset includes information, procedures or techniques your company uses to manufacture its products and promote success. Another way to put it is that your trade secrets comprise all confidential information that gives your business a competitive edge.
How to protect your trade secrets
Let’s begin by reminding all business owners that the key component of a trade secret is its privacy. It’s called a secret for good reason. It is not meant to be public information and, in fact, someone could compromise your business by acquiring such information, then use it for individual profit or share it with others who compete against you in the marketplace. The following practical tips may be useful as you seek to protect your business interests:
- The categories that qualify as trade secrets are quite broad. In addition to those already mentioned, any program, formula, customer or pricing list, device, process, method or technique that is unique and valuable to your company’s ability to compete that you do not wish other business owners to know about is a trade secret.
- The first logical step to take to protect your trade secrets is to identify them. If you haven’t already done so, create an itemized list of your company’s trade secrets, both the obvious and those that are less so.
- You must decide whether to have hard copies of your trade secret lists, digital copies or both. Either way, you want to make sure your lists remain secure. You may contain hard copies in sealed envelopes or safety deposit boxes or simply lock your written lists in a filing cabinet. As for digital copies, the best way to keep them safe is to strictly limit access to your electronic files.
- You can also request that all current employees, as well as all new hires, sign non-disclosure agreements to help protect your trade secrets. Periodic meetings stressing the importance of confidentiality regarding your trade secrets are also a good idea.
- While most states, including California, have laws that prohibit stealing trade secrets, the law does not provide a means to specifically register a trade secret for protection as it does for copyrights, patents and the like.
That said, as a business owner, you have every right to take civil legal action against any party or parties you believe have violated of your trade secrets. Often, a prompt and direct response is the best means for obtaining a swift and satisfactory solution to the problem.
This is why many business owners stay closely connected to experienced business and commercial law attorneys so someone is always at the ready to pursue justice if a trade secret violation or other business infraction occurs.