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How can companies protect their trade secrets in unusual times?

In the wake of natural disasters, many employees may be told to work from home in order to “flatten the curve” and limit the effects caused by such events. Many businesses may need to quickly adjust the way they do business to facilitate this transition while keeping employees actively employed and maintaining their business’ purpose. Further, many businesses may be required to downsize by either laying off employees or by furlough of their employees, leading to an increased level of unemployment. With the increase in remote access to information and the high employee turnover comes the increased risk of intellectual property misappropriation including trade secrets.

In enacting new business policies and procedures, companies may neglect to consult with an experienced attorney regarding the appropriate steps that are required to protect their intellectual property, trade secrets, and proprietary information. Their plans have certainly achieved the hope of limiting the employee exposure to dangerous events. However, they may have exposed others who are not in privity with the company to its confidential information. The spread of this confidential information may be disastrous for a business facing economic challenges in the wake of a natural disaster.

When a situation unexpectedly causes a business to change its operating procedures, there are often bad actors who may take advantage of security weaknesses. If a business is not prepared to make these changes, they may be susceptible to cybercrime or other types of data breaches due to the lack of reasonable efforts to protect the industry’s trade secrets. Such breaches may require the business to report these incidents, have monetary fines associated with them and open the business to the risk of class action lawsuits.

Not only may cybercrime cause businesses to be at risk, but also, actions that may seem innocent could place the business’ trade secrets at risk. Many businesses are allowing the use of personal email accounts, home Wi-Fi networks, and allowing the copying of trade secret information on personal computer devices and storage units, such as flash drives. Additionally, businesses are allowing for video conferencing with clients, customers and business partners from home computers where parties who are not in privity with the business may view or overhear trade secret information or other confidential information protected under contract. With the large number of layoffs and furloughed employees, there may be an increase the risk of solicitation or use of trade secrets if the business does not take the appropriate steps to ensure that information is not sufficiently protected from direct or indirect disclosure.

If reasonable security measures are not set in place by a business regarding their trade secret information during transitions between business procedures, the business may lose any protection they have had over the information they rely upon to maintain their business. By speaking with an attorney experienced in reasonable security measures in protecting trade secrets, businesses may reduce the risk of their trade secrets entering the public domain.