Back to the Basics: Trade Secrets

A trade secret is the secret sauce of any business.  It is information that sets your company apart from you competition and it is information that your competitors would find valuable.  The good news about trade secrets is that their life is limitless.  The bad news is that once a trade secret has been exposed, it is gone forever. 

Trade secrets can include items of information that you may not immediately consider are valuable.  But if you think of what your competition might find valuable, your scope may widen.  For example, trade secrets may include pricing, customer or supplier lists, employee names and contact information, and manufacturing practices. 

Protecting a trade secret from exposure is critical.  The first thing to do is identify all of your organization’s trade secrets or otherwise proprietary information.  Next, you should limit access to the information only on a “need to know” basis.  This means that manufacturing may not need to have access to pricing information, while accounting may not need to know the nuances of some manufacturing techniques that enhance quality. 

In addition, employees should be trained on how to handle trade secret information.  Once trade secrets have been inventoried, those within an organization designated as “need to know” should understand how to protect the trade secrets entrusted to them.  A confidentiality agreement should always be used when disclosing any trade secret information, including agreements with employees. 

Protecting proprietary information is critical to any organization.  Having the right person to help you make those decisions is important.  The Law Office of Kathleen Lynch PLLC is designed to help businesses such as yours keep ahead of the game.   The first telephone consultation is free.  Email us at

Beware of the Start Up Weekend

I had lunch with a colleague who is an IP attorney and an engineer.  He was telling me about his participation in a start up weekend and all of the challenges and fun that he had.  In hearing this, we discussed, as patent attorneys do, the consequences of disclosing ideas to a loosely held group of people whose only relationship to each other is on the back of a napkin. 

Most start up weekends do not impose any obligation of confidentiality on their attendees for all that is developed and disclosed in a 48 hour period.  This raised the concern that perhaps anything that is developed that may be rather meaningful, i.e. might lead to actual commercialization of a product or service, may need to be “black boxed”.  In other words, the team of developers could agree to disclose only the basic outline of the structure and/or function of the development and then disclose the details of the operation once a patent application has been filed or a confidentiality agreement has been signed. 

To do otherwise may jeopardize the group’s ability to seek meaningful protection which may likely translate directly into meaningful funding.  The US patent system has moved to a first inventor to file system.  In that system, the inventor has a year to file on the invention developed after it has been disclosed.  The rest of the world essentially requires absolute novelty.  So if any invention is disclosed prior to a patent filing, any international patent rights outside the US may be lost completely.   This is something worth considering when venturing into a start up weekend.

One aspect of any new development is the extent of patent protection available to the ultimate product or service.  If all international patent protection is lost by the close of a start up weekend as a result of disclosure, then the level of funding and any significant patent advantage may be lost.  It remains that anyone involved in a start up weekend should ask the appropriate questions regarding disclosure with the organizers and raise any concerns with the team as it could impact the protection and funding of what may be developed during the weekend.

Protecting your innovative developments is critical to any start up venture.  Having the right person to help you make that decision is important.  The Law Office of Kathleen Lynch PLLC is designed to help businesses such as yours keep ahead of the game.   The first telephone consultation is free.  Email us at