Trade secrets

If you possess valuable information on technology or on any other aspect of your business, you can protect it as a trade secret if the following conditions are met:

– the information is not known either by the public at large or by the experts of the sector in question
– the information has commercial value
– you have taken steps to keep the information secret: for example, you keep it in safe storage and you have signed – non-disclosure agreements with anyone that has access to it or with whom you have shared the information

What information can be covered by a trade secret?

Trade secrets can include a vast amount of information and know-how that is not protectable or cannot be protected properly through patents, such as:

– early-stage inventions
– manufacturing processes
– lists of suppliers and clients
Information protected by trade secrets can be strategic for the long-term, like recipes or chemical compounds, or for shorter periods, such as the results of a marketing study, a brand name, price and date of launching of a new product or the price offered in a bidding procedure.

How trade secret protection works

The fact that you have a trade secret does not mean that you have exclusive rights over the information in question. If someone else develops the same information, he or she can use it freely.

However, you are protected against dishonest behaviour: for example, if someone accesses the documents related to your secret information without your authorisation, copies them for their personal use or gives them to someone else. You are also protected if someone breaches a non-disclosure agreement and makes the information available to someone else.

In situations of dishonest behaviour, you are entitled to damages and other remedies. For example, a court order can prohibit the use or further disclosure of the trade secret by the person who had acquired, used or disclosed the trade secret unlawfully.

For further information, consult the factsheet on trade secrets by the European Intellectual Property Rights Helpdesk (EHD).