How can I protect a trade secret?

While things like patents and trademarks can help you protect certain aspects of your business, trade secrets cannot be registered for protection. That means it's up to you, the business owner, to determine how to safeguard valuable information and prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. The U.S. Small Business Administration explains the necessary steps to protect your business. 

Trade secrets can encompass a lot of different information, so the first step is to determine what would be most valuable if it fell into the hands of competitors. This includes recipes, specialized techniques, programs, customer lists, and pricing data, just to name a few examples. Anything that could potentially be of commercial value to your enterprise is a trade secret, and because the definition is so vague it can be difficult for a company to implement the proper protections. 

Once you've determined what your trade secrets are, the next step is to inform your staff. All new hires should be asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), which prevents them from sharing company information with others. You can also extend the length of the NDA to a period after the person is no longer employed by your company. Business owners have concerns about former employees taking advantage of trade secrets for their own advantage, and an NDA imposes legal ramifications in the event that happens. As for existing staff, make sure they're updated on any changes to confidential information.

While trade secrets can't be protected, you can pursue legal action if you believe they've been breached. Along with assessing damages and requesting monetary relief, the courts can also order a cease and desist. State laws regarding violations vary quite a bit, so it's important to work with an experienced attorney to pursue the matter. 

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