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Employers, You All Have Secrets: New Report Might Help You Protect Them

A couple weeks ago, I spoke to an HR group on developing a strategy for protecting valuable information in their organizations. I structured the talk around a series of questions, and the next step in the process could vary depending on the answer to the question. The first question was, “Does your company have info of any kind that, if a competitor obtained it, would give the competitor an unfair advantage?” If an attendee’s answer was “no,” the next step for that attendee was to put down her pen and catch up on e-mails for the rest of the session. Nobody did.

That is because virtually every organization has some information they want to protect. For everybody else, we then worked through various tools – from routine confidentiality agreements on one end of the spectrum to more aggressive measures like noncompetes on the other end of the spectrum. It is an area where there certainly is no one size that fits all (and therefore it is not recommended that you just grab a policy or agreement off of the internet!), but it is a conversation that every company needs to be undertaking on an ongoing basis.

Recently The Center for Responsible Enterprise and Trade (CREATe.org) and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP released this meaty report, “The Economic Impact of Trade Secret Theft.” It is more than most employers probably have time to read in detail, but I recommend that all employers take a look at this chart on page 14 of the report:

Category of Trade Secrets

 Examples

Product Information

 New hardware designs; adaptations/updates of existing products

Research & Development

 Long-term R&D; basic or applied research; geology R&D

Critical & Unique Business Processes

 Inventory/distribution; manufacturing processes; business model based on application of  processes

Sensitive Business Information

 M&A prospects/plans; market research/studies; customer list/information; information on  key suppliers/business partners; expansion plans; corporate strategy

IT Systems and Applications

 Novel application of IT that could create new markets; system architecture designs;  source code; algorithms

I would be very surprised if any reader’s organization does not have at least one of the five kinds of information in the chart. Most will have more. Is your company taking steps to ensure its employees cannot take this information to a competitor? (The report deals with threats other than employees as well, but employees are our focus here.) 

© 2022 BARNES & THORNBURG LLPNational Law Review, Volume IV, Number 97
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About this Author

William A. Nolan Labor and Employment Law Attorney Barnes Thornburg Law Firm Columbus
Partner

William A. Nolan serves as the Managing Partner of Barnes & Thornburg LLP’s Columbus, Ohio, office, which he opened in 2009. He is a member of the firm’s Labor and Employment Law Department. Bill has extensive experience as a litigator, trial lawyer and counselor. His practice includes a broad range of issues that organizations face in our rapidly changing competitive, legal and workplace environments. In short, he works to help management structure organizations, practices and relationships to proactively minimize the business disruption of disputes, and to help clients prevail when...

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