Trade secrets are a form of intellectual property (IP) that can be used to protect sensitive information from competitors. Unlike patents, which usually have a lifespan of twenty years, trade secrets last indefinitely as long as the secret is kept. If the secret is leaked or released to an unauthorized party, the trade secret is likely to cease to be a secret. To maintain its value, the trade secret must remain secret from the buyer and all parties must be aware that the information should not be released.
When dealing with third parties or licensing its knowledge, companies sign confidentiality agreements to ensure that all parties know that secret information should not be released. To protect a trade secret, companies must take reasonable measures such as marking confidential documents, imposing physical and electronic restrictions on access to information on trade secrets, introducing a system of systematic surveillance, and sensitizing employees. New York law also requires that the use of trade secrets be continuous in the operation of a business, not all at once. A trade secret can lose its protection if it is released publicly, intentionally or unintentionally, or if it is discovered through reverse engineering. If this happens, the owner of the trade secret can demand compensation for the economic harm suffered from the person who violated the trade secret.
At the end of a trade secret case, courts can award compensation for damages, court costs, reasonable attorneys' fees, and a permanent court order. It is important to note that while “protectible” information is very broad under trade secret legislation, what can be protected by a patent has more limitations. Therefore, it is important to work with an experienced trademark attorney to confirm that your trademark is valid and enforceable before filing a lawsuit against a potential infringer. In summary, trade secrets last as long as you can keep them confidential. If any element ceases to exist or if information is distributed to the public, it ceases to be confidential and loses its trade secret protection forever. Companies must take reasonable measures to protect their trade secrets and should work with an experienced trademark attorney to ensure their trademarks are valid and enforceable.