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The Secret is Out: Congress Enacts Federal Trade Secret Law to Protect American Businesses

Posted in Business Litigation, Buying, Owning and Selling a Business, Labor & Employment, News and Recent Decisions, Noncompete Agreements, Operating a Business

top secretA long awaited Federal Law on trade secret misappropriation was signed into effect last month. The new law, titled the Federal Defend Trade Secrets Act, or “DTSA”, creates a Federal cause of action for businesses who own trade secrets against individuals who have misappropriated the business’ confidential information. The law creates a uniform definition of
trade secret; a definition that currently differs from state to state, and that has made litigation difficult for businesses with multi-state presences.

Many businesses’ livelihoods depend upon protection of trade secrets. Trade secrets include secret formulas, designs, ideas, and other forms of intellectual property that are the basis for the business’ competitive advantage in their particular market.  While other type of intellectual property like trademarks, patents, or copyrights require publicizing the particular information to mark it as the business’ own property, publicity of a trade secret risks hindering the business’ competitive advantage, giving the business incentive to keep that trade secret, a secret! A couple famous examples of trade secrets that are currently utilized by American companies are Coca-Cola’s formula for Coke, and Google’s search algorithm.

Of course, without protection of trade secret laws, businesses’ risk their trade secrets falling into the wrong hands. Necessarily, employees, independent contractors, and other individuals often become aware of trade secrets when becoming involved with a particular business. Because these individuals could exploit those trade secrets for their own gain, many states, including Wisconsin, have devised their own trade secret misappropriation laws to give businesses a right to recover damages from a person who gained access to the trade secret and then exploited it for his or her own benefit. However, with the increased nationalization (and indeed globalization) of the modern marketplace,  businesses should welcome a uniform definition of trade secret and a uniform forum in Federal Court for litigating trade-secret misappropriation. These changes in the DTSA ease the procedural and financial burdens that accompany state court trade secret litigation.

What this means for your business

One particularly important section in the DTSA is one affecting confidentiality agreements in business contracts, whether they be between the business and its employees, or between the business and independent contractors. The section requires that, as of May 16, 2016, in order for a business to have the full protection of the DTSA, any agreement regarding trade secrets must provide a specific notice to individuals signing those agreements of their rights and protections as whistleblowers in particular types of trade secret cases.

This recent development in trade secret law demonstrates the importance of keeping your business apprised and compliant with the latest changes to the legal landscape. Whether your business’ confidentiality agreements need review, updating, or need to be drafted in the first place, or if you have a former employee or contractor who you believe misappropriated your trade secrets, contact one of our business attorneys at Schober Schober & Mitchell, S.C. to discuss how we can help.