Keeping trade secrets under lock and key may be the greatest threat your company faces today other than natural disasters. With trade secret theft happening at alarming levels, it still isn’t a discussed household topic. Even many businesses don’t get into the specifics of how to protect a valuable trade secret that’s been locked in a safe for decades. With many even turning to the cloud to store those trade secrets, are they still really safe?
Your biggest threat is actually from your employees more than any hacker. That’s because your employees have access to those trade secrets on a regular basis and have to be trusted not to leak the information.
There’s some ways to get on a better path, particularly in creating a non-compete agreement your employees may or may not want to sign. Beyond this, you may have to design individualized confidentiality agreements, or just implementing basic good practices.
The Non-Compete Agreement
This is the most common method in making sure your trade secrets are kept under wraps. They work by having the employee sign and agree they won’t go to work for a competitor and leak your trade secret to them. It’s a contract not all employees will want to sign out of fear it’s a binding contract in staying indefinitely with your company. Nevertheless, even if an employee does agree to sign it as a committed team player, many of these agreements are never clear on how long they’re supposed to be active.
After a decade, the employee who signed may leave anyway and end up working for a competitor. Because they’re aware of your trade secrets, they may give away some information that helps your competition get a leg up in profits. With no binding timeline on the agreement, it may not hold up in a court of law if you decide to sue.
To make things easier, you shouldn’t force employees to sign a non-compete agreement if there isn’t real strong incentive to. Give them some real benefits in signing it so you know for sure you have a committed employee who will stay with you for years.
Confidentiality Agreements and Best Practices
If a non-compete agreement is out of the picture, individual confidentiality agreements can sometimes suffice just as much. You may want to give these out to everyone who has exposure to your trade secrets, much like magicians do when they have the public participate in a large-scale illusion. It really works no differently in that the public sometimes only sees part of a magic trick, though enough to get the gist of the effect. Some of your staff may only see some parts of your trade secrets based on what their exposure is. Regardless, it may be enough where a vital part could be leaked to a competitor.
Most of all, setting up best practices within your company to prevent being duped by someone into giving out trade secrets is essential. Employees frequently get fooled by spies calling on the phone and using pseudonyms or wraparound ways to gather trade secret information bit by bit.
The same applies at trade shows and your employees discussing trade secrets out loud in cafeterias or other areas where competitor spies could listen in. Paying attention to these things and focusing on a best practices campaign can do more to protect your trade secrets than any paper signed on the dotted line.