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August 13, 2014

Tips to Safeguard Company Trade Secrets

A key asset for most companies is its trade secrets. These secrets offer a competitive advantage against other businesses and can range from a secret formula for a product, to the recipe of a dish, to future unannounced products[1]. Other secrets could be certain financial information, market research, and advanced manufacturing techniques which only the company knows about. The safeguarding of these secrets is imperative to ensure a competitive advantage.

NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreements)

These are formal agreements usually signed by employees and other company personnel to keep all inside knowledge secret. This means that the employees are legally bound to honour the NDA, or could face termination or legal action in court. This makes employees more cautious in revealing crucial company information such as marketing figures, and future product announcements. This is very common in many industries, especially in industries crucial to national security like intelligence agencies, and other government industries. These NDAs should also be signed by external parties, such as to other companies when they are entering a partnership with your company, as they may try to pry into secretive information.

Strict Auditing Procedures

While no one wants to feel continually monitored by anyone, let alone their own company, a strong auditing department is crucial to safeguard company trade secrets.  For example Apple, one of the most secretive companies in the world, has its own set of spies trained to look out for employees attempting to leak secretive information, such as future product announcements[2].  While going to such extremities may be unnecessary depending on the business, a good I.T structure where employers can view employee company emails, employee web history, as well as keeping track on which employees have access to secretive information can all help safeguard vital company trade secrets and help track down leaks. For example, when revealing key company information, such as future product launches, it is good to keep track of who exactly this information is given to, and then keep an eye on said employee’s communication records to look for any potential leaks.

Stringent Security Measures

Finally, any reputable company must have security measures in place such as security cameras, and security personnel, as well as controls placed on key locations such as the R&D department.  Security cameras are good at tracking employee movement, and also helps show if employees are trying to access an unauthorized location. This in turn with having security personnel can help assure no “outsider” is presently trying to locate trade secrets. Typical secretive areas such as the R&D department can also have controlled access through the use of a locked door requiring a key or access card, or through doors requiring a security escort to enter. This helps in segmenting specific areas to only those required to work there. There also needs to be strong network security, such as ensuring emails are encrypted and making sure network connections are secure. Antivirus is also crucial, as malware and other viruses can compromise company information to outsiders.

While these 3 aspects of company security must be implemented to reduce the chance of the public revelation of important trade secrets, a culture of discipline and professionalism must also be instilled in order to ensure the confidentiality of company trade secrets.  Managers must make sure employees are aware of the company’s expectations in regard to the secrecy and confidentiality of company information. Disciplinarian procedures should also be explained to employees, so they know the consequences of any actions which can compromise company secrets. This, in combination with the 3 main points highlighted above, will make sure that the company can keep its vital information safe from competitors and other external parties to ensure company secrecy is upheld.

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