This is a series of guest articles by Brenda Matanga on Intellectual Property and its impact on innovators and entrepreneurs.
Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s founding fathers in his book entitled Poor Richard’s Almanack aptly described the essence of secrecy in a famous quote, “Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” The art of keeping trade secrets could not have been defined any better than that.
Something can only remain a secret if one person remains the only person who knows about it. Once you reveal your secrets to the wind, you should not blame the wind for revealing them to the trees. This is what forms the basis of trade secrets. Secrecy in itself is against our very nature as human beings. It is very difficult to suppress a juicy piece of information or an ingenious thought, there is always an itch to want to give it away to someone.
There is certain information unique to a business that should be safeguarded from being known by other people. There is no business under the face of this earth that can say that it has no information that is a trade secret. Any confidential business information that gives a company competitive edge is considered a trade secret and each company ought to identify its little secrets and secure them.
There is a restaurant that I frequently visit which makes an amazing salad dressing. I have enquired of the ingredients and have tried to make the dressing at home but I can never get the taste right, I can’t figure out what exactly brings out that unique taste in that salad dressing! The secret could be in the quantities of the ingredients, in specific brands of the ingredients they use or even in the method of mixing; I cannot tell. It is this secret they do not reveal to customers that makes their salad a favourite of many at this restaurant.
In terms of the law, information protected by a trade secret ought to be a secret. It should not be generally known or easily accessible to the people who would normally be in that circle dealing with such information .It should derive commercial value in it being a secret. Information considered a trade secret should also be subject to reasonable steps being taken by the rights holder of the information to keep it secret. For example, you can include confidentiality clauses in employment contracts and in non-disclosure agreements to safeguard yourself from misappropriation of your trade secrets.
Manufacturing processes, techniques, know how, data compilation, personal records, business strategies, designs, blueprints, designs, manuals, information on research and development, formulas for producing products, ingredients can all be considered as trade secrets. A trade secret does not require any formality to be registered; it is protected for an unlimited period of time or for as long as the information remains confidential.
Identify the trade secrets you have in your business and make sure you keep them close to your chest because if your fellow tech geeks get a hold of these, you are history!