Washington law protects an employer’s confidential business information from being stolen or wrongfully disclosed. The Washington Uniform Trade Secrets Act prohibits the misappropriation of trade secrets and provides remedies to businesses whose trade secrets have been wrongfully acquired or disclosed. It is important for employers to understand the Trade Secrets Act in order to protect valuable business information and, if necessary, bring an employment lawsuit to enforce trade secret laws.
What is a Trade Secret?
Under Washington’s trade secrets act, a trade secret is a business’s information that has economic or commercial value because it is not generally known and the business makes efforts to keep it from being generally known. This information can be something like a recipe for a signature barbeque sauce, or it can be other types of information, such as:
-Formulas or patterns
-Methods, techniques, or processes
-Devices or programs
-Compilations, including information such as customer lists
A trade secret can have economic value by giving the business some sort of competitive edge. For example, a computer program that improves employee productivity or a baking method that produces unique cupcakes could both be trade secrets.
Protecting Trade Secrets
In order to count as a trade secret, the business must have taken reasonable efforts to protect its secrecy. One way to protect a trade secret is to include a nondisclosure, confidentiality, or non-competition agreement in an employment contract. The contract should state what information is to be kept secret, and should state that the information cannot be communicated to third parties. It should also provide for trade secrets to be returned at the end of employment, if that is possible.
Another way to protect trade secrets is to limit employees’ access to the information. Only share trade secrets with employees who need them in order to perform their jobs. For example, a restaurant’s recipe for a secret spice rub could be shared with the chef, but not necessarily with the hostess or dishwashers. With information that is kept on a computer, it should be password-protected. When an employee leaves, the password should be changed so that former employees cannot access the information.
Legal Actions to Protect Trade Secrets
When there is concern that a trade secret has been stolen or misappropriated, a business can take legal action to protect it or to recover damages. Types of legal action include:
-A court order or injunction to prevent the use or threatened use of a trade secret, or to provide royalties for the use of that secret
-A lawsuit for damages caused by the disclosure of a trade secret or for another party’s wrongful gains made from a misappropriated trade secret
During legal proceedings, a court can take measures to protect the trade secrets at issue. These measures include protective orders or sealed court proceedings and records.
Trade secrets are a valuable asset to any business. An employment lawyer can help you protect your trade secrets through documents such as nondisclosure agreements, and can help you pursue legal action against people who steal your trade secrets.