Most companies have trade secrets that they use for their business advantage. A trade secret is critical to a business’s value and competitiveness, whether a recipe, formula, process, or algorithm.
A business needs to keep its trade secrets secure to remain competitive. What happens if someone gets their hands on a trade secret and starts using it? Are trade secrets protected in court?
There are several actions you can take to secure your trade secrets. If need be, you can also sue for the theft or misuse of your trade secret under the federal Defend Trade Secrets Act and the Florida Uniform Trade Secrets Act if someone improperly obtains or uses your trade secret.
What Are Trade Secrets?
You may wonder, What are trade secrets? Both federal and Florida laws require the same elements to constitute a trade secret, despite slight differences in their definitions.
The legal definition of a trade secret is any business information, including a formula, program, pattern, or device, that:
- Has economic value because it is not known;
- Would benefit others, especially those who cannot legitimately acquire it; and
- You’ve taken reasonable steps to keep it secret.
Trade secrets come in many forms. They can be recipes, algorithms, formulas, or patterns. They are as varied as the businesses themselves.
How to Secure Your Trade Secret
A court will not consider your information a trade secret unless you take steps to keep it secure. You may wonder, what should I do to protect my trade secrets? Companies use several methods to secure their trade secrets, including limiting access to specific information, implementing cybersecurity protocols, and administering physical security measures.
Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) provide a means of dealing with employees who have access to your trade secrets. An NDA is a contract that requires a party to keep certain information confidential. Non-compete agreements often accompany NDAs. A non-compete agreement prohibits the employee from working for one of the company’s competitors for a certain period after ending employment. If the employee violates one of these agreements, the business can bring a lawsuit.
Protecting a Trade Secret in Court
Are trade secrets protected in court? If someone has obtained and is illegally using your information, the courts have the legal power to stop them. They can also compensate you for any harm this caused.
Florida Law Protections
Florida has a Uniform Trade Secrets Act. Under that law, a trade secret is a proprietary information whose secrecy conferred actual or potential economic value to its owner by not being publicly known. If such information has been the subject of a concerted effort to maintain its secrecy via company policies, confidentiality agreements, or other means, then misappropriation of the trade secrets by theft, breach of contract, fraud, espionage, or bribery is actionable in court.
The plaintiff may be able to obtain injunctive relief to stop further disclosure or money damages for the resulting harm due to the misappropriation. In cases of willful and malicious misappropriation, the court may award the plaintiff double the amount of proven money damages. If theft is involved, criminal prosecution is possible under the Economic Espionage Act of 1996.
This means that if you can demonstrate that your information was a trade secret, and someone has misappropriated it and is now using it for their economic gain, you can bring a lawsuit against them.
Remedies in Court
A court can do two things if someone has taken and used your trade secret. First, they can issue an injunction. An injunction is an order that stops a person or business from taking specific actions. For example, a court can order the person to stop using the trade secret.
Second, a court can compensate you if you have suffered economic damages. A court may require the other party to give you the amount of money or other economic benefits they received from using your trade secret. If the other party’s behavior was particularly bad, the court could double your financial compensation. An experienced intellectual property attorney will help you understand your potential compensation.
Protecting Your Trade Secret While in Court
Court proceedings and filing are usually public. Fortunately, there are several ways to secure your trade secrets during your proceeding.
The first step in bringing a case to court is filing a complaint. While you will have to give some general information about the trade secret in your complaint, you do not have to be too specific. You can request that the court permit you to file any detailed information under seal, meaning that the public will not be able to access this information.
In addition, your lawyer can ask the court to issue a protective order. This requires that the other party and their lawyers keep any information confidential. You should speak to an intellectual property attorney for more information about your options.
Contact Our Skilled Lawyers
Understanding how to protect your trade secrets in court can be complicated. The experienced intellectual property attorneys at BrewerLong have helped many businesses protect their intellectual property, including trade secrets. Contact us today for a consultation.
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