Trade secrets may be the intellectual property that a small or mid-sized business finds most difficult to protect, but the right central Florida small business attorney can help you obtain the maximum legal protection for your trade secrets and intellectual property.

Can trade secrets be effectively protected? What steps should business owners take? If your trade secrets are stolen, what is your legal recourse? Keep reading, and you’ll learn the answers to these questions – and more about how to protect your important trade secrets.

What Is The Definition Of A Trade Secret?

Your trade secrets may be your company’s most valuable assets.

Under the law in most states, including Florida, a trade secret is any idea, formula, pattern, device, process, or information that:

1. Gives the owner a competitive commercial advantage
2. Is handled so that the public will not learn about it unless it is disclosed or stolen

Florida law more precisely defines a trade secret as, “information, including a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique, or process that:

1. Derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable by proper means by, other persons who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use; and

2. Is the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain its secrecy.”

What Is The Federal Law That Protects Trade Secrets?

The intentional theft of a trade secret is a crime under both state and federal law. The federal statute that deals most directly with trade secret theft is the Economic Espionage Act of 1996.

The Economic Espionage Act lets the Justice Department prosecute any person or business involved in trade secret theft and penalizes the intentional stealing, copying, or receiving of trade secrets.

Penalties for convictions under the Economic Espionage Act are severe. Individual offenders may be fined up to $500,000 and face up to ten years in federal prison. Corporations convicted of trade secret theft may be fined up to five million dollars.

What Is The Florida Law That Protects Trade Secrets?

The Florida Uniform Trade Secrets Act also prohibits “misappropriation” of trade secrets and provides several specific legal remedies (which are explained below). The courts in Florida also may impose criminal penalties on anyone who is convicted of stealing trade secrets.

“Misappropriation” of a trade secret is defined by the Florida Uniform Trade Secrets Act as the acquisition or disclosure of a trade secret by someone who knows or should know that the trade secret was acquired improperly.” Examples of trade secrets may include but are not limited to:

1. Food recipes
2. Drink formulas
3. Manufacturing techniques
4. Computer algorithms
5. Marketing strategies
6. New inventions not yet patented

Other intellectual property – trademarks, patents, creations, and written materials – require a registration or copyright for full legal protection, but trade secrets are not patented or registered. A business that owns a trade secret simply operates in a way that keeps it secret.

When a trade secret is disclosed or becomes available to the public, it is no longer protected by state or federal law.

What Are The Best Ways To Protect Your Trade Secrets?

How can a Florida business owner protect important trade secrets? One way is by requiring and enforcing employee confidentiality and non-compete agreements. A Florida business lawyer can help your company develop an effective trade secret strategy.

What recourse does a business owner have if a trade secret has been stolen or misappropriated? The first step is to discuss your rights and options with the right central Florida small business attorney. Your business attorney can help you take the appropriate legal action.

That action is usually a civil lawsuit against the party that allegedly stole or misappropriated the trade secret. To file a lawsuit for trade secret misappropriation, you and your attorney must offer evidence that the defendant improperly acquired, used, or disclosed the secret.

What Remedies Can Florida Courts Impose For Trade Secret Violations?

If you file a civil lawsuit for trade secret misappropriation, a Florida court may impose these remedies:

1. Injunctive relief: Under the Florida Uniform Trade Secrets Act, a court may order a defendant to stop violating a plaintiff’s rights, and a court may take other actions to preserve the secrecy of the plaintiff’s information.

2. Damages: A Florida court may order a defendant to pay damages to a plaintiff for the economic harm suffered because of a trade secret violation. Damages may include the plaintiff’s losses and the defendant’s profits derived from the violation.

3. Attorneys’ fees: If a plaintiff sues and wins, a Florida court may award attorneys’ fees if it finds that the defendant acted willfully or maliciously. However, if the defendant wins, a court may award attorneys’ fees if a plaintiff filed the lawsuit in bad faith.

In Florida, the statute of limitations for a trade secret claim is three years. However, you should not wait three years to speak with a Florida business attorney about your case. The sooner the matter is placed in your attorney’s hands, the more likely it is that your lawsuit will prevail.

Putting A Plan In Place Before Problems Arise

Sensible precautions for business owners include marking trade secret documents “confidential,” keeping trade secret items under lock and key when not in use, maintaining computer security, and giving trade secret access only to those who need it.

In the event of trade secret theft or misappropriation, having taken these precautions will demonstrate to a court that you intended for your trade secret to be and remain a secret.

By requiring and enforcing confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements, Florida business owners can avoid most trade secret theft and misappropriation. The right attorney can help you develop confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements that satisfy legal requirements and that Florida courts will enforce.

Can Trade Secrets Ever Be Obtained Legally?

Business owners should know that there are several ways to obtain some trade secrets legally without stealing or misappropriating them. One example is that it is not against the law to “reverse engineer” – to study and analyze – lawfully obtained items and deduce their recipe or formulas.

If you launch a new business in central Florida, buy an existing business, or do not already have an attorney on your team, the right Florida business attorney can advise you regarding the best way to protect your trade secrets such as through drafting non-disclosure or confidentiality agreements.

Extraordinary measures to protect trade secrets are rarely needed. Most businesses will not require armed guards or electronic surveillance. With the right attorney’s help, you should be able to take reasonable measures that will protect your trade secrets for many years to come.