Trade secrets are broad in scope and can be what provides your business with a competitive edge, ensures efficiencies and tracking, results in a better product or service and enables better marketing and identification of the target consumer. Yet when it comes to working with commercial partners in supply chains, the risk to this proprietary information can be put at risk. In our webinar, Protecting Trade Secrets in your Global Supply Chain, we look at how IMT businesses in particular can navigate the need to work with commercial partners whilst limiting the risk to their trade secrets.
Some key insights and takeaways from this discussion by our trade secret professionals are:
- Trade secrets are important throughout the entire supply chain and production life cycle of IMT companies. Understanding where trade secrets are held throughout this cycle and how they are stored and shared is crucial to protecting the value of these assets, especially given the complexity of IMT supply chains.
- We are seeing an increased reliance on trade secrets, often over, or in conjunction with, other traditional intellectual property such as patents. This trend towards reliance on trade secrets is due to the immediacy of the protection provided, the broad coverage and the absence for the need to formally register and associated costs of registering IP. This is particularly apparent in relation to fast paced technology sectors and in relation to trade secrets derived from data collection and analysis from within the supply chain.
- IMT companies are deriving greater value from trade secrets and data (including data from their commercial partners within the supply chain). This presents a business opportunity, but the role of data in transforming companies and their manufacturing and business models is also complicated by complex IP, regulatory, and compliance considerations. IMT companies may find this particularly challenging, as they pivot from the traditional focus on manufacturing to new service provider business models, they are increasingly encountering issues outside of their core business expertise.
- Once a trade secret is publicly available, any benefit of having the trade secret can be dramatically lost. People are the main risk factor for the loss of trade secrets. Effective and management and protection is therefore key. Prevention is the best protection.
- Do not underestimate the significance of data privacy and cybersecurity. An effective trade secrets program includes strong preventive measures, careful selection of business partners, effective contractual safeguards, robust inventory and monitoring, and quick action in the event of a breach or leak. Penetration tests can be a useful weapon against hackers, but an appropriate contractual framework is essential where third party products and services will be impacted.
- Governments and regulators are actively engaged on trade secrets, with many recent national improvements on local protection as well as implications for geopolitical and trade relationships and enforcement schemes.
- We are seeing increasing trade secret disputes in China, with a significant proportion of such disputes in the IMT sector involving manufacturing and R&D activities.
- In disputes, it will be for the trade secret owner to show how they proactively protect the “secrecy” of their trade secrets. Therefore, documenting adequate measures and protection, both within the company and in third party dealings, is vital, particularly when speed in commencing trade secrets proceedings is paramount.
- Based on input from our webinar attendees, many companies are still in the early stages of understanding their trade secret assets. A majority of respondents were uncertain about their trade secrets inventory, how data privacy applied to their trade secrets, or rights in third party trade secrets used in their business.