A trade secret is a form of intellectual property. As the name implies, it is ‘secret’ information that gives a business a competitive advantage.
Trade secrets can come in a wide range of different forms. Some of the most common examples include formulas, practices, designs, patterns, processes, commercial methods, and any combination of the above.
In this article, our Orlando intellectual property attorneys explain the most important things that you need to know about trade secret misappropriation claims in Florida.
What is a Trade Secret?
A trade secret is a confidential device, technique, or strategy that a business uses, in some manner, to obtain a commercial benefit. To qualify for trade secret protection under state and federal regulations, information must be truly secret, it must offer a tangible competitive advantage, and the trade secret holder must take reasonable steps to protect their confidential information.
If any of those criteria are not met, then legal protection may not apply. More specifically, the three key elements of a trade secret are:
- Actual Secrecy: Information that is already known or that is readily discoverable by competitors is, by definition, not a trade secret. Actual secrecy is required.
- Economic Value: You cannot obtain trade secret protection for just any information. In order to qualify for protection, the information must have actual commercial value to the company. If no competitive advantage is offered, then it is not a trade secret.
- Active Protection: Finally, Florida companies must be making active efforts to protect their trade secrets. If a company fails to try to secure information, then it may lose its ability to seek trade secret protection.
What Remedies are Available in a Trade Secret Misappropriation Claim?
There are a number of different remedies that may be available through a trade secret misappropriation claim. At BrewerLong, our Orlando trade secret misappropriation attorneys are strong, effective advocates for our clients. We are committed to helping companies protect their sensitive and confidential information and, when trade secret misappropriation does occur, recover the maximum available compensation for any damages.
Depending on the specific nature of the trade secret misappropriation, the following remedies may be available:
- Injunctive Relief: Injunctive relief (an injunction) is a court order compelling a party to refrain from a specific action or, alternatively, to take a specific action. In the context of trade secret misappropriation, injunctive relief can sometimes be used to stop continued misappropriation and to preserve the secrecy of the sensitive information. It is one of the most important tools in a trade secret misappropriation lawsuit.
- Actual Damages: State and federal courts have the authority to award plaintiffs financial compensation for their actual economic damages. These damages can come in a wide range of different forms, from a company’s direct financial losses to the illicit profits that they were denied. Calculating damages in a trade secret misappropriation is notoriously challenging. Companies should be represented by an experienced Florida IP lawyer who can help them recover the full and fair financial damages that they rightfully deserve.
- Attorneys’ Fees/Legal Costs: In some cases, courts may award victims of trade secret misappropriation attorneys’ fees or court costs. Though, this is not required under the law. Generally speaking, Florida courts typically only award in this remedy when the defendant is determined to have acted willfully or maliciously in violating the plaintiff’s intellectual property rights.
- Punitive Damages: Finally, in some limited cases, courts may award punitive damages. As described by the Cornell Legal Information Institute, punitive damages are meant to punish the wrongful actions of the defendant. Generally, punitive damages will only be awarded if the defendant is deemed to have acted in bad faith or if they made significant profits because of the trade secret misappropriation.
Four Tips Florida Companies Protect their Trade Secrets
1. Know What Needs to Be Protected
As a starting point, Florida companies seeking to protect their trade secrets need to know exactly what they have to protect. As was mentioned, state and federal regulations require companies to take proactive measures to keep their trade secrets confidential. Failure to do so could potentially prevent a company from pursuing a trade secret misappropriation claim.
2. Use Written Agreements With Employees and Contractors
If employees, independent contractors, or other outside parties have access to trade secrets, the companies should require them to sign a written agreement. Among other things, the agreement should include a strict confidentiality or nondisclosure agreement. In the unfortunate event that trade secret misappropriation does occur, a well-drafted agreement will make it far easier to take legal action.
3. Limit Access Whenever Possible
Ideally, companies can avoid dealing with issues of trade secret misappropriation altogether. One of the keys to protecting trade secrets is to limit unnecessary access to sensitive, confidential information. If an employee does not actually need to know the trade secret to perform their job, then they probably should not be given access to it at all. The fewer people that have access to trade secrets, the better.
4. Take Immediate Action to Address Violations
If you believe that trade secret misappropriation has occurred, it is imperative that you take immediate action to protect your rights. When trade secret misappropriation is allowed to linger, a company may eventually lose its right to take action. Beyond that, the sensitive information may be shared with an ever expanding number of parties. The bottom line: Contact an experienced Orlando, FL intellectual property lawyer right away.
Speak to an Orlando, FL Trade Secret Misappropriation Attorney Today
At BrewerLong, our top-rated Florida intellectual property lawyers have deep experience handling the full range of trade secret misappropriation claims. If your company is considering filing a claim for trade secret misappropriation or if you are facing a lawsuit for alleged trade secret misappropriation, we are available to help.
To arrange a free, no obligation introductory phone call with our intellectual property attorneys, please contact our legal team today. From our law office in Maitland, we handle trade secret misappropriation claims throughout Central Florida, including in Orlando, Sanford, Kissimmee, and Altamonte Springs.