You Own It, Now What Are You Going to Do with It? – Why Trade Secrets Are Treated Like Property: Part 2
In last month’s post, Part 1 of this series, we considered the view of European academics that trade secrets are not “intellectual property” because they don’t give the power to exclude others, like patents, copyrights and trademarks do. But considering that trade secrets are treated throughout the world like a kind of property – they can be transferred and taxed, and stealing them is considered theft – we concluded that what matters is not exclusion, but control. It is the ability to control access to secret data that can give companies an advantage over others that don’t know about it. We considered the example of an Armenian family that has managed to keep – and profit from – the secrets of making the very best orchestral cymbals for four centuries. They did this by sharing only within the family, where presumably they had available some compelling ways to enforce trust. For the rest of us in the modern, globalized and digital economy, we have what looks like an impossible task. How do you protect the company’s secrets when they are zooming around the globe at the speed of light and accessible by thousands of employees, contractors, partners and vendors, each with a small supercomputer in their hands? More specifically, what do you do when those people go home in the evening and use those same little devices to participate in various forms of social media, where they are relentlessly instructed to share the most molecular details of their lives with hundreds or thousands of “friends”?