Intellectual property can refer to many different legal elements. Intellectual property can be ideas, or tangible objects. They can be patents, copyrights, and trademarks. The umbrella that is IP law is quite a bit wider than many people may realize. Another area of intellectual property law that doesn’t always pop into your mind when you hear the phrase “intellectual property” is trade secrets.
Trade secrets are vital pieces of information that are intentionally kept secret from the public (and more crucially, a company’s competitors) because it makes a company’s product, service, or manufacturing process unique and, thus, valuable. If the information was public, everyone would use it and the value of that information would be lost.
Companies with trade secrets can take tangible steps to protect this valuable information. First, they need to identify what needs protecting and then appropriately label it (whether it is a physical document or an electronic file). Then securing the area where it is kept becomes a priority, as well as monitoring it and keeping track of any activity with the information. Then the business needs to put processes, policies, and training in place to minimize the potential leak of information by employees.
Non-competition agreements can be very beneficial in this regard, creating a legal understanding between the company and their employee about the secrecy of the trade secret and the necessity of keeping that secret. Companies that have trade secrets need to think long and hard about how they treat, secure, and maintain this critical piece of intellectual property.