In today’s competitive marketplace trade secrets are an organization’s most valuable asset. The only way to ensure protection of a trade secret is to keep the information confidential. Are you taking adequate measures to protect your company’s assets?
- Who has access to the company’s most important trade secret information, and how is it currently protected?
- Is this information marked confidential and maintained in a restricted manner?
- Are company employees aware of their obligations to maintain the secrecy of this information?
- How would an employee know how to report suspicious activity involving trade secret theft?
The first step in protecting trade secrets is ensure they are properly identified. In doing so, manufacturing companies can then develop and implement policies and procedures that are appropriate to protect the nature and value of such confidential information. Manufacturers may wish to consider undertaking an audit of its trade secret and proprietary information periodically, especially as a company develops new products and expands into new markets.
A second important step in protecting proprietary and trade secret information is to identify where such information is stored and located. Once identified, limit all access. For example, this may include restricting access to the company’s premises, including manufacturing materials, processes, files, computers, etc. Security for the facility and company property is also essential.
Only employees who require such information to perform their jobs – on a need to know basis – should have access to proprietary information. Then before access to the trade secret and proprietary information is permitted to anyone – employees, vendors, consultants, etc. – manufacturers may wish to consider entering into confidentiality agreements with those who will be granted access to this information so that these individuals clearly understand the conditions to be granted access. Once these individuals are no longer affiliated with the company, exit interviews may be necessary to ensure that all relevant information is properly returned and the individuals understand their continuing obligation to maintain confidentiality.
Obviously, the amount of time and money devoted to the protection of certain information depends on the value of such trade secrets and proprietary information. Protection strategies cannot follow a one-size-fits-all approach and must be tailored to the type of information being protected.