Innovation, along with the quality of its ideas, has kept the German company in business for more than 130 years. It’s also what has motivated the company to safeguard its inventions.

“Most of our businesses are highly innovative, so there has always been some sense of the importance of protecting our trade secrets and intellectual property in those areas,” says Christoph Dahl, compliance counsel at SCHOTT, which recently won a contract to create the primary mirror on the world’s largest telescope now under construction in northern Chile.
One challenge, however, was identifying the company’s trade secrets and prioritizing which ones were among the most valuable.
“There are different views on what’s important and what’s not according to who you speak to, the business they’re in and the length of time they’ve worked here,” Dahl says.
To compile an inventory, the SCHOTT compliance office set out to identify the company’s top trade secrets across each of its seven main business units — those critical business processes that distinguish its products from competitors and could hurt the company if they ever became public.
A second challenge was ensuring that all of its 15,000 employees understand what trade secrets are, why they are important and how to protect them. Given Germany’s strict privacy and data protection laws, it’s nearly impossible for SCHOTT to protect its trade secrets by monitoring employees using surveillance technologies. So it’s had to rely heavily on education.
“Part of the problem for us, as a large international company, was communicating to all the staff,” Dahl says. “It is important that the message gets across.”
To spread the message, the compliance office has been running an awareness campaign for more than two years to provide on-site and web-based training and issue guidelines and policies. It’s an ongoing, intensive process that evolves along with SCHOTT’s trade secrets and other innovations. And it appears to be making a difference. “Our people are now thinking much more about these issues and asking the right sort of questions,” Dahl says. “They are taking it seriously.”
As a leading international technology group that specializes in making high-quality specialty glass and glass ceramics products like radiation-resistant glass lenses for cameras used to take close-up pictures of planets from outer space, SCHOTT’s success depends on its ability to innovate.
© 2019 Baker McKenzie