Trade secrets: prized possessions worthy of protection

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Hewitsons

1st January 2020

Legal Briefing

Hewitsons

By Tania Saigol

Solicitor

Hewitsons LLP

HOW does a company protect its trade secrets - its most prized and valuable assets?

I like to make a comparison to my mother's recipes, which are closely guarded secrets. She has written them down and they are on frequent rotation in our household.

My husband occasionally makes dinner using one of these recipes. Much to our disappointment though, the outcome of his hard work is always a bit 'off'. He insists it's not because he is a bad cook, but because there must a 'secret way' that she combines her spices with the other ingredients.

Trade secrets come in a variety of forms and some of the world's most famous ones include the recipe for Coca-Cola, the formula for WD-40 and the software algorithm for Google's proprietary search engine. These have immense value.

Unlike patents, trade secrets have immediate effect and they are protected without registration or any other procedural formalities and their associated costs. Not only does this prove to be cost-effective for some companies, this also means that trade secrets can be protected for an unlimited amount of time.

In the UK, there is a robust and well-established legal framework offering protection for trade secret holders. This framework got a bit stronger when the Trade Secrets Regulations came into force in June 2018.

If a company wants to rely on the regulations for protection of its trade secrets, it must prove that it has taken reasonable steps to protect them.

Increasingly, the courts are saying that companies need to take reasonable steps to protect confidential company assets and that these efforts include not only securing computer networks, but also embedding trade secret protection into business operations and processes.

This is because once a trade secret is made public, anyone can have access to it and use it at will.

If a company is intent on protecting its trade secrets, it should focus on developing a company culture that embraces trade secret protection at all levels of the organisation and across all departments, whilst recognising their protection as a compliance issue, with potentially serious reputational, financial and legal implications.

So, whether it is a composition of spices, chemicals, numbers or words, if it is unique to your company and it has helped to make your company successful, start taking those reasonable steps now to protect your trade secrets - or risk a competing company finding out about your prized possessions.

For more information on protecting your company's trade secrets, speak to the specialists at Hewitsons on 01604 233233.