Although businesses commonly seek to protect intellectual property assets like company names, many ignore their trade secrets. This information includes data like business processes, methods, patterns and formulas that may be considered valuable because their owners keep them secret and they aren't within the realm of public knowledge. Certain trade secrets, like a list of a New Jersey company's customers that a competitor may want to use for marketing purposes, are distinct from information that could be protected with patents or copyrights.
Small businesses may be unaware of what might be protected under trade secret laws, but most states have some statutes designed specifically to safeguard such information. These laws are typically based on the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, which defines trade secrets as various types of information that are valuable because they are secret or difficult for others to figure out.
These laws also permit trade secret owners to take action after their proprietary information has been stolen, fraudulently acquired, exposed or otherwise misappropriated. Companies can pursue court injunctions to halt the use of their secrets. They also can seek damages, royalties or profits from those who make money off of their information. If they win court judgments, they may in some cases be awarded attorneys' fees.
Different kinds of intellectual property call for unique protective strategies. In some cases, companies may enter into confidentiality agreements with their employees or prospective business partners, but in others, they might be forced to rely on existing legislation. The most effective strategies often employ a combination of tools that make use of copyright, patent, trade secret and trademark law to protect a broad portfolio of unique business information.