Greetings – I am pleased to join this group and I wish to extend my sincere thanks to Nicole Bernabo for her contributions. I hope I can meet the standard that Nicole set on this blog.
For a little background on what brings me to the Manufacturing Law Blog, throughout my working life I have, in one way or another, been linked to manufacturing or issues touching the industry. I have practiced law in the labor and employment field for over 30 years, including with the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C., where I advised Board Members, and in the NLRB’s Brooklyn (NY) Regional Office, where I investigated and prosecuted suspected violations of the law. As a government attorney and in private practice, I have worked with and represented manufacturers across the United States. Before that, I helped work my way through school on a shop floor and on an assembly line (making blenders). I hope these experiences will help me make a meaningful contribution to this blog.
One of the biggest surprises in recent years has been the explosion of litigation by manufacturers and others to stop former employees from using, selling or distributing the company’s most valuable assets – its intellectual property. Whether that property is a “trade secret” or merely sensitive information which gives a competitive advantage, if the first time a company thinks about protecting valuable information is after it has been taken, that may be too late to do much good. A cop is not going to put out an APB for a thief if you are the one who left a wallet full of cash on the top of your car. So too, a court may be reluctant to use its power to stop a former employee from (mis)using information that the company left unguarded.
The best way to prevent the misuse of a company’s most secret “secrets” is to lock the door before someone takes them. So, for my introductory post, let me offer my “Top 10 Tips to Protect Trade Secrets.”
- Treat confidential information in a confidential manner. This means password protect information stored on computers and networks, store hard copies in locked file cabinets inaccessible to workers absent a need, and adopt policies reinforcing the importance of preserving confidential materials.
- Adopt confidentiality agreements. When employees have access to truly confidential material, require those employees to sign confidentiality agreements as a condition of employment. Tailor those agreements to the employee and her or his access to information.
- Coordinate. Make sure legal, IT, human resources and business leaders all have input into this shared responsibility. Often these leaders may have a very different idea about what information is truly confidential or valuable.
- Name a SPOC. Designate a “Single Point of Contact” whose job includes a responsibility to coordinate between departments to maximize and coordinate protections.
- Invest in IT. The entire published works for John Adams – 10,000 volumes – can fit on an iPhone. Invest in software to safeguard against data theft. Monitor the use of computer systems to make sure confidential materials are not being sent to unauthorized accounts.
- Consider the impact of BYOD. “Bring Your Own Device Policies” could expose company secrets.
- Audit. Periodically review information, policies, procedures and systems to look for weaknesses.
- Implement post-termination imaging. When employees depart, consider imaging workstations to preserve evidence of theft for later use. Make this routine protocol. Analysis of the imaging may not be needed for months down the road, but if the computer has been recycled by then, it may be too late.
- Restrict all employees. Make sure software safety and security protocols apply to everyone.
- Promptly seek legal counsel. When you become suspicious of inappropriate activity, seek prompt legal redress. The more time that goes by, the less likely it becomes a court will take action.