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Can someone steal a trade secret if it’s not a trade secret?

Proprietary information can be enormously valuable to a business. It could set the company apart, give it an edge in the marketplace, or even give the business some stability in times of insecurity.

Just as proprietary information is valuable to a business, it can also be valuable to that business’s competitors, which gives some parties motivation to misappropriate trade secrets. However, this is illegal and can result in harsh consequences. In fact, even when material ends up not being a trade secret, there can be repercussions for someone who steals it.

Stealing information

Parties who steal trade secrets and other protected information often do so by downloading documents, exporting data or physically removing files. Typically, they then offer it to competitors or use it themselves to start a new business.

In some cases, a person who steals information he or she believes to be protected as a trade secret can be guilty of a crime, even if the material does not constitute a trade secret.

In one federal case, for instance, a man argued that his conviction for theft of trade secrets was unjust because the information involved was not actually a trade secret. The courts disagreed, ruling that his conviction would stand because he believed the information he was stealing was proprietary.

Protecting trade secrets (and other information)

Cases like this one should be a powerful reminder of how vital it is for businesses to secure trade secrets and any information they do not want to fall into the wrong hands. Failure to take reasonable measures to protect sensitive material could allow people to take information without criminal consequences.

Any business owner who is unsure of how to protect information, or what information warrants protection in the first place, should discuss their options with an attorney. Doing so can make it easier for owners to protect valuable data and materials from theft.


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