The theft of trade secrets has been front and centre in recent high-profile legal disputes involving former employees of key players in the connected autonomous vehicle (CAV) space. They serve as a good reminder of the importance of and challenges in protecting commercially valuable information. This blog post covers some of the measures businesses can adopt to proactively protect their trade secrets, and how they can prepare for when disaster strikes.
Trade secret theft also involves a risk for companies licensing-in new technology or hiring tech talent. Apart from generally being alert to the possibility, there are a couple of steps companies can consider to minimise their risk of being dragged into a lawsuit (or at least help them set up a good defence) for misappropriating or misusing third party trade secrets as a result of misconduct by their employees or commercial partners.
Trade secrets, key tools to protect CAV technology
From traditional automotive firms to tech companies, players in the CAV game have put significant resources into research and development to create and improve CAV-enabling technologies.
Various types of intellectual property rights are available to protect these technologies. Among them are trade secrets: valuable confidential information not in the public domain that is key to obtaining and maintaining a competitive advantage. Confidential information that rises to the level of a trade secret is that which would be devastating for the business if it were disclosed to a competitor.
In the CAV context, this can include confidential technical information in algorithms and data sets, for which patent protection may be difficult to obtain. Where patent protection is available, the trade-off for obtaining a patent is the strict public disclosure requirements which are incompatible with maintaining confidentiality. Patent rights are also only for a limited period (usually 20 years). In contrast, trade secrets can extend for an indefinite period while they are kept confidential.
Trade secrets theft, a growing risk
Preparing and responding to trade secret theft
Conclusion: Tailoring risk management strategies
As the race to full automation intensifies, and organisations compete to attract top tech talent, legal disputes involving CAV technology are likely to become more frequent.
Companies should adopt organisation-wide protection and response plans, weighted against the organisation’s risk tolerance and appetite.
Protective and recovery measures should be adapted to the specific risks faced by the organisation. These risks will be shaped by the organisation’s market position, the legal and regulatory environment in which it operates (requirements for the protection of trade secrets are not uniform across jurisdictions), and its reliance on technology.
Leadership figures ultimately responsible for protecting the business and its assets should set the tone to ensure enterprise-wide awareness.