Only information that derives economic value from not being generally known and could not be readily ascertained by others can be protected as a trade secret.
Can Any Information Be a Trade Secret?
Trade secret law generally categorizes the following information as potential trade secrets:
- Formulas - formulas can cover anything from a chemical formula to a recipe
- Patterns - typically these are drawings or blueprints for making a machine
- Compilations - these are usually databases or lists of factual information that are not available to the public such as customer lists or marketing data
- Programs - computer programs are often protected by trade secret
- Devices - typically designs or concrete ideas for functional machines
- Methods, techniques, or processes - these are often things like business methods or manufacturing techniques
Although these are the most common types of trade secret information, this list is nonexclusive, and other information that meets the other trade secret requirements can also be protected.
What Does It Mean for Information to Derive Its Economic Value from Not Being Generally Known?
Information that is valuable because it is kept from the public can be protected as a trade secret. If the information would not be economically valuable to a competitor or other person who doesn't know it, the information cannot be protected as a trade secret. Thus, while a boss may want to keep information of an affair with his secretary quiet, he cannot claim it as a trade secret because it does not hold any economic value.
What Does It Mean for Information to Be Readily Ascertainable?
If competitors could easily figure out the information you want to protect without resorting to improper means, the information is readily ascertainable and not eligible for trade secret protection. Some common situations in which information is considered readily ascertainable include:
- Information can be found in published sources
- Information about a product can be determined just by looking at it
- Information presents itself to competitors willingly, like in the case of a customer list where customers identify themselves to competitors
Do I Need to Contact a Trade Secret Lawyer?
If you have questions about what can and cannot be a trade secret, you may want to contact a lawyer experienced in trade secret law, or more generally versed in intellectual property. An experienced intellectual property lawyer can explain the limits to what trade secret covers and can help you determine if your information qualifies as a trade secret.