The Dark Side of Secrecy: What Theranos Can Teach Us About Trade Secrets, Regulation and Innovation
The spectacular failure of blood-testing firm Theranos is the subject of a riveting book, Bad Blood by investigative reporter John Carreyrou, and an engaging documentary, “The Inventor” on HBO, focusing on Elizabeth Holmes, the once-celebrated wunderkind who dropped out of Stanford at age 19 to “change the world” with a device that would perform hundreds of diagnostic tests with a few drops of blood from a finger stick. It’s a story made for Hollywood (Jennifer Lawrence will play Holmes in the forthcoming movie), filled with lies, deception, threats and sex, set in a Silicon Valley startup. But even the Theranos story doesn’t mean that trade secret law is inherently dangerous. Consider Apple, one of the world’s most secretive companies. (Holmes famously modeled her clothing and business habits after Steve Jobs.) Apple has consistently used NDAs and secrecy management to protect products under development, to great effect when they are ultimately unveiled, all without touting non-existent technology. And it’s easy to imagine how Theranos might never have happened if investors and business partners had been less credulous and more insistent to understand the technology.