Since trade secrets are not registered with the government, like patents or trademarks, companies must take proactive measures to preserve them. Those who fail to take reasonable measures, risk finding out down the road (usually in court, when the try to recover stolen trade secrets from a rogue employee) that their information has lost its trade secrets status.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that: (1) a party must “prevail” before it can recover any attorney’s fees under the Defend Trade Secrets Act and (2) a plaintiff’s dismissal of its claims without prejudice does not confer the “prevailing party” status on defendants.
Many small businesses use Google, Microsoft 360, Dropbox or some other similar systems to maintain and manage company records. All of those systems allow the administrator to (1) set restrictions on which employees can access which information within the company; (2) track what the employees do with that information; (3) set restrictions on whether the employees can print, download, copy or share the information with other employees or people outside the company; (4) periodically change passwords to access the system; and (5) many other features that can help business owners prevent their information being shared outside the company.
Trade secrets only have value as long as they stay secret, so once they come into a competitor’s hands or become publicly available, their value is often destroyed.
Few employees realize that when they take their employers’ trade secrets with them prior to leaving their job they may be exposing themselves to criminal liability under the Economic Espionage Act, which makes it a crime to steal trade secrets when (1) the information relates to a product in interstate or foreign commerce (which is virtually any product now days) or (2) the intended beneficiary is a foreign power.
A court order prohibiting defendant from using trade secrets must be broad enough to cover all possible circumstances while narrow enough to include only the illegal activities. Where that line lies depends on the circumstances of each particular case.