For certain business, their trade secrets and are their most valuable assets. Accordingly, businesses will often seek to protect their trade secrets in various ways, including the use of a non-disclosure agreement (commonly referred to as an “NDA”). An NDA is a contract that typically binds current and former employees and independent contractors to maintain the confidentiality of disclosed information. To succeed in business litigation alleging misappropriation of a trade secret, a company must take reasonable measures to protect the secrecy of its information. This requirement is codified within the Defend Trade Secrets Act (18 U.S.C. section 1839(3)(A)) as part of the definition of “trade secret.” The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Tax Track Sys. Corp. v. New Inv. World, Inc., 478 F.3d 783 (7th Cir. 2007), explained that courts evaluate the question of whether efforts to keep information confidential were sufficient “on a case-by-case basis, considering the efforts taken, the costs, benefits, and practicalities of the circumstances.” The Tax Track decision further stated that, in some circumstances, judgment as a matter of law is appropriate because it is “readily apparent that reasonable measures were not taken.” Peter Mavrick a Miami business litigation attorney, and represents clients in Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, and Palm Beach. The Mavrick Law Firm represents businesses and their owners in breach of contract litigation and related claims of fraud, non-compete agreement litigation, trade secret litigation, trademark infringement litigation, employment litigation, and other legal disputes in federal and state courts and in arbitration.
Under the Defend Trade Secrets Act, 18 U.S.C. section 1839(5)(B)(ii)-(iii), a trade secret is “misappropriated” by, among other means, “disclosure or use of a trade secret of another without the express or implied consent by a parson who…at the time of disclosure or use, knew or had reason to know that the knowledge of the trade secret was…acquired under circumstances giving rise to a duty to maintain the secrecy of the trade secret or limit the use of the trade secret; or…derived from or through a person who owed a duty to the person seeking relief to maintain the secrecy of the trade secret or limit the use of the trade secret.” Although an NDA is not a necessary condition to demonstrate reasonable protection for a business’ trade secrets, it nevertheless can serve as persuasive evidence in demonstrating the business took reasonable measures to protect its intellectual property. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Penalty Kick Management Ltd. v. Coca Cola Co., 318 F.3d 1284 (11th Cir. 2003), stated in pertinent part that, “[i]n this case, the surrounding circumstances, namely the Non–Disclosure Agreement, clearly gave rise to a duty on the part of Coca–Cola to maintain the secrecy of any Magic Windows trade secrets.”
Requiring that employees and independent contractors sign NDAs is generally not, by itself, sufficient to prove the employer took reasonable measures to protect its trade secrets. As with any valuable asset, common sense is needed to determine what measures are appropriate under the relevant circumstances. For example, the business may need to limit access to the trade secrets to only those employees who “need to know” the information, limit access to information via separate computer database that is password protected, and limit employee access to certain parts of the business premises to prevent inadvertent dissemination of trade secret information. Such measures may deter or prevent trade secret information. In the event of actual misappropriation, such prudent measures would help the business protect its trade secrets in litigation seeking an injunction and damages.
Peter Mavrick is a Miami business litigation lawyer, and represents clients in Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, and Palm Beach. This article does not serve as a substitute for legal advice tailored to a particular situation.