Following the European Commission's publication of Hogan Lovells' Study on the legal protection of trade secrets, we attended a summit on the legal protection of trade secrets in Europe. As a next step, the Commission has commissioned a survey to collect information on how European based businesses manage trade secrets and confidential business information.
As much as 75% of most organizations' value now lies in their intangible assets, IP and proprietary information. The problem of trade secret misuse is large and growing. Criminals have realized that they can get rich by "stealing" corporate or R&D information and new technology allows much easier access to information than ever before. While most of the existing statistics focus on US companies' loss,1 a similar effect is being seen in Europe. What are the lawmakers doing to address the issue?
On 29 June 2012, Sarah Turner and Robert Anderson of our London office were invited by the European Commission to speak at a Commission summit on the legal protection of trade secrets in the European Union. The summit's aim was to gather senior representatives from industry, legal and economic experts as well as trade associations and bodies such as the European Parliament and the EPO to debate the economic effects of the current fragmented legal framework and the potential gains that could be achieved by harmonization of the law across Europe.
The summit follows the Commission's publication of Hogan Lovells' Study on the legal protection of trade secrets in the 27 Member States.2 General Counsels, VPs and Heads of Legal from Alstom, DuPont, Michelin and American Superconductors among others described their companies' less than satisfactory experiences with the current law and the losses they have suffered through inadequate protection in some jurisdictions. It was apparent that a change in the law is required and there is a definite momentum building amongst industry leaders to effect that change.
As a next step, the Commission has commissioned a survey to collect information on how European based businesses manage trade secrets and confidential business information, their perception of the importance of trade secrets and their opinions on trade secret enforcement. This survey is planned for completion during Autumn/Winter 2012 with an aim to put forward any proposals for reform in May 2013 before the end of the current European Parliament term. The Commission was very clear that it was encouraging industry leaders from all different sectors to take advantage of this opportunity to bring about policy change. One of the most important things that industry can do is to provide information about their experiences. Without the necessary statistics on the importance and value of trade secrets to industry in Europe the law is unlikely to be reformed.