Trade secrets and IP play an essential role in companies’ brand value and corporate strategy.
In our survey, 82% of respondents said their trade secrets are an important, if not essential, part of their businesses. Among industries, 46% of financial services executives said they consider their trade secrets to be essential to their corporate strategy, followed by industrials and ICT executives (both 41%), healthcare (35%) and consumer goods and retail (27%).
Trade secret protection is a board-level issue.
Among our respondents, 61% said that protecting their company trade secrets and IP is a board-level issue, reflecting the rising value of trade secrets in our digital age. Nearly one-third ranked it a top-five concern.
Corporate leaders most fear theft by former employees.
When asked to identify the greatest threat to their trade secrets, 32% of our respondents said they most feared having trade secrets stolen by former employees, followed by suppliers, consultants and other third parties (28%), and current employees (20%). Another 15% said they most fear rogue or state-sponsored cybercriminals or hackers.
Only one-third of companies maintain inventories of their trade secrets and have action plans for responding to theft.
Despite the heightened awareness of the importance of trade secrets, only 31% of our respondents said they have procedures in place to respond to the threat of or actual theft of trade secrets. Given that trade secrets are no longer protected once they become public, the question is how much more they should be doing to manage this risk.
One in five companies has suffered trade secret theft.
Among the companies in our survey, 20% said they’ve had trade secrets stolen. Another 11% said they don’t know whether they’ve been the victim of misappropriation, indicating that the incidents of theft are likely higher. The healthcare industry is by far the most targeted, with 33% of those executives in our survey reporting that they’ve suffered trade secret theft, followed by industrials (18%) and ICT (17%).
Amid this high-speed race, the attention that companies give to protecting their trade secrets can mean the difference between success and failure. It’s why an IT company will go to great lengths to safeguard its software algorithms, a life science company will conceal its early testing procedures, and an e-commerce firm will closely guard its supply chain and logistics techniques. To better understand the role trade secrets play in today’s digital age, Baker McKenzie partnered with Euromoney Institutional Investor Thought Leadership to examine how the leaders of multinational companies view their trade secrets, who they see as the greatest threats to those secrets, and what they do to protect them.

Drawing on the survey responses of 404 senior executives across five industries, we found that these executives place great importance on trade secrets. In fact, half said their trade secrets were more important than their patents and trademarks. Even more (69%) said they foresee trade secret protection becoming more critical than safeguarding other types of intellectual property given the rapid pace of tech innovation. However, our survey results also revealed that companies are not taking basic steps to preserve their trade secrets, reflecting a disconnect between the level of importance that corporate executives place on this type of intellectual property and what their companies are actually doing to protect them.
Driven by the furious pace of technological advancement, companies across industries are engaged in an unprecedented race to innovate. To win business, companies must not only be smarter, quicker and more agile in their approach to innovation, but also transform how they protect the very innovations that define them.
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