Trade secrets may seem like something only major companies have for exciting and well-known products, like the recipe for Coke. In reality, trade secrets are common among businesses large and small and across many product areas.
The Ohio Trade Secret Act (R.C. § 1333.61) defines a trade secret as information, including scientific or technical information, design, process, procedure, formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique or improvement, or any business information or plans, financial information or listing of names, addresses or telephone numbers, that:
- derives actual or potential independent economic value, from not being generally known, and
- there are reasonable measures taken to maintain its secrecy.
The broad definition of information means many businesses have trade secret information and may not even realize it. Client lists, company procedures, project details, pricing guides, recipes or formulas can all constitute the type of information classified as a trade secret if it is valuable precisely because it is unknown or not easily discerned.
But just having information that constitutes a trade secret isn’t enough to gain protection. Companies must also take steps to maintain the secrecy of the information. Such steps often include non-disclosure agreements, marking documents “confidential” and sharing the information with a select group on a need-to-know basis. While employing these steps is not a guarantee that the information will be protected as a trade secret, they can help should the information ever be misappropriated.
Misappropriation can occur in a number of ways, including willful and improper acquisition of the information or disclosure by someone who had a duty to maintain its secrecy. Trade secrets are often misappropriated by former employees who intentionally give information to a competing company or who may innocently disclose the information at a new job.
Confusion, and litigation, can arise when there is no clear method for handling confidential information, resulting in employees being unsure as to what information may be a “trade secret” versus standard operating procedure. That is why it is important for businesses to be proactive and have employees and others who may come into contact with confidential information sign non-disclosure agreements and engage in other protective measures.
If you have additional questions about how to protect your trade secrets or what to do if you think they’ve been misappropriated, contact KJK’s Brand Enforcement Group or reach out to Alexis Preskar at firstname.lastname@example.org or 614.427.5748 to discuss more.
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