Unlike other types of intellectual property, trade secrets do not require filing applications with the government. To protect them, all companies need to do is take steps to keep the information confidential. Some companies opt to protect some of their intellectual property as trade secrets for that very reason – to avoid having to disclose the confidential information during the patent application process.
Because the onus to keep trade secrets a secret lies solely with the company, it’s important that corporate leaders understand the magnitude of the responsibility. Although our survey results show trade secrets have captured the attention of CEOs and other board-level executives, it also shows a lack of urgency and awareness of the steps they should take to protect them.
“Many times companies are not going to know if they have had trade secrets stolen, particularly if it’s a computer intrusion,” says John Robertson, a supervisory special agent and the intellectual property rights liaison in the FBI’s criminal investigative division. “The more savvy criminals are not going to hack into your system and steal everything in one go. They’re going to break in, lurk, read emails, find out what your crown jewels are, and then extricate them in such a way that you will not know.”
Ask any senior executive at a multinational company about trade secrets and they will likely say they play an important, if not essential, part in their corporate strategy. Such is the growing commercial power of trade secrets, defined as any confidential business information that gives a company a competitive edge, such as manufacturing techniques, computer algorithms, marketing strategies, recipes, supplier lists, and pricing information.