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Trade Secrets versus Other Types of Protected Intellectual Property

Feb 23, 2013

What are some ways that trade secrets differ from other types of protected intellectual property?

To qualify as a trade secret, the information must be secret and have value to the owner's trade or business. A trade secret cannot be a matter of general knowledge in an industry. Absolute secrecy, though, is not required, but the owner must take “reasonable precautions to ensure its secrecy.” See Phillips v. Frey, 20 F.3d 623, 630 (5th Cir. 1994). While other forms of intellectual property protections (patents, copyrights, and trade dress) protect intellectual property that has become public knowledge, an owner of a trade secret is only protected from wrongful disclosure of the trade secret. The law provides, "[O]ne who either discloses or uses another's trade secret, without a privilege to do so, is liable for such disclosure or use if the disclosure or use constitutes a breach of confidence reposed in the party disclosing or using the trade secret by the owner of the trade secret." See IBP, Inc. v. Klumpe, 101 S.W.3d 461, 472 (Tex. App.—Amarillo 2001, pet. denied) ("To be actionable, the disclosure or use of the trade secret ordinarily must be to the competitive disadvantage of the owner of the trade secret."). See In re Waste Mgmt. of Tex., Inc., 286 S.W.3d 615, 2009 Tex. App. LEXIS 3671 (Tex. App. Texarkana 2009). Unlike the case of copyright infringement, one need not make an exact or nearly exact copy of an algorithm or a compilation of information to be liable for trade secret misappropriation in connection with the misappropriation of the essence of the algorithm. Nor do each of the steps of a process that is protected as a trade secret have to be novel or previously unknown. See Restatement of Torts § 757, cmt. b (1939); see also E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co. v. Christopher, 431 F.2d 1012, 1014 (5th Cir. 1970). The value of the trade secret comes from the fact that competitors do not possess the information embodied in the trade secret, which gives the holder a potential business advantage.

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