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Collaborating with others? Define and protect trade secrets

Collaboration, particularly in STEM-related fields, can be vital to the advancement of technological solutions and developments. Considering the sensitive nature of all that goes into new products and ideas, confidentiality is critical to these collaborative efforts.

Often, small startups and large corporations partner to expand their respective understanding of a specific topic. In these situations, both parties must be confident that their trade secrets are secure. However, this could be a challenge for less-experienced, smaller businesses.

Controlling collaboration

Protecting trade secrets begins long before the first collaborative session. Before parties meet, they should have a framework in place and legal agreements that define boundaries. As this article explains, these materials can include:

  • Confidentiality agreement
  • Non-disclosure agreement
  • Trade secret acknowledgments
  • A collaboration agreement that formalizes expectations
  • Restrictions on who can access to materials
  • Data solutions that prevent unauthorized sharing

These tools allow parties to discuss private information more openly without the risk of losing control of valuable data.

Enforcing your boundaries

As a small business owner, collaborating with a large corporation can be intimidating and exciting. However, it is crucial not to let down your legal guard.

Giving too much information before you have protection, signing something you do not necessarily understand and overlooking the advantages the other party may hold can result in costly losses. Thus, it is vital to have protection in place before you begin collaborations and have legal guidance throughout the process.

It is also essential to understand that individuals can act without the express consent of their employers. In other words, business owners must also be sure their employees do not violate any agreements regarding collaboration and trade secrets.

Should anyone violate the rules and agreements you have in place for collaboration, business owners should be prepared to enforce their terms to protect trade secrets. Measures could include seeking financial penalties or legal penalties against a violating party.

To avoid these unfortunate and costly situations, business owners would be wise to lay out expectations with your team and outside collaborators clearly and before sharing any sensitive information.


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