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Trade Secrets

It sometimes comes as a surprise to many business people that many of their ideas, creative endeavors, methods of business, customer lists, and unique business can be protected from unauthorized use or theft. If the idea or business method falls under the definition of a trade secret, it can be entitled to broad legal protection. Under Oklahoma law, a trade secret is “information, including a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique or process, that: (a) drives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable by proper means by, other persons who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use, and (b) is the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain its secrecy.” 78 O.S. §86 (4)(a)-(b).

Trade Secret

A copyright, trademark or patent is not always necessary to protect a trade secret. Rather, secrecy combined with the proper legal documents is the key. Steps must be taken which are “reasonable under the circumstances” to protect the confidentiality of the trade secret which often includes the right legal documents properly signed before the idea is actually shown to someone.

Indeed, the idea, formula, technique or process does not have to be something that is brand new or novel. Even information that is widely known or available to the public may be a trade secret if it gives a business an advantage, such as consumer recognition.

Trade secrets exist even in non-traditional business areas. In agriculture, when applying for a permit under the Oklahoma Agriculture Biotechnology Act, data, formulas and processes, including quality control tests, can be designated “confidential,” but must be done so upon applying for a permit or the trade secret is lost as it then becomes easily ascertainable under the Freedom of Information Act. Governmental agencies which conduct inspections must keep trade secrets confidential and be careful not to disclose them. However, there are statutory requirements a provider must meet to maintain that secrecy. Trade secrets are considered privileged information which the courts must even take steps to protect during jury trials and public hearings.

Companies really should take precautions to protect their trade secrets. A business should require confidentiality agreements of employees and/or others outside their business who have access to a company’s trade secrets. Estimates of business losses due to trade secret misappropriation are approximately $100 billion annually. Confidential

It is important to remember that many different things can be classified as trade secrets and subject to protection if you take the right precautions. But, businesses must identify those trade secrets, keep them confidential, and use the proper legal documents to protect themselves against unauthorized use and/or dissemination.

The law firm of Buckman Law Firm has experience in the field of trade secrets, protecting confidential business practices, and enforcement of trade secret agreements through the courts.