This perception can’t continue to exist and companies are beginning to realize it, Halligan says. “I’m starting to see in the reported press, people refer to trade secrets as trade secret assets, so this transformation of a litigation cause of action into a valuable corporate and tangible asset is occurring.”
The most traditional method for addressing trade secret violations is through the court system, but sometimes that’s taking the approach of trying to force the cat back into the bag. In addition, cross-border judgments can be hard to enforce, and courts might be more sympathetic to companies in their jurisdiction. Companies should start with a proactive approach by securing their assets up front before a trade secret can be stolen, says Tom Stutler, CPP, corporate security manager for Raymond James.
The first step in taking a proactive approach to protecting trade secret assets is identifying what those trade secrets are, explains Stutler, who is also a member of the ASIS International Investigations Council. Stutler suggests identifying these assets annually because business practices and processes may change over time. Then companies need to identify countermeasures and devise a way to ensure that these steps are being taken.
Some of these countermeasures are simple. For example, Stutler recommends adopting a “clean desk” policy in the office, which requires employees to secure documents in a locked drawer at the end of the day so people walking through the office after hours won’t have access to them.
Along with new policies, Stutler suggests that companies engage in a robust awareness program to make employees aware of what a trade secret is and policies in place to protect those, along with other business assets. This program should “impact everyone who is on board for however long they stay at the company” and be supported by the C-suite to be effective, he says.
Part of this awareness program is helping employees understand their vulnerabilities while traveling overseas. For example, the U.S. State Department has issued warnings for various countries, including Russia and China, for business travelers, saying they should not expect the same level of privacy for their online actions and for equipment they might be traveling with that they would in the United States. “It’s a known fact that in many of these countries now, if you’re an American business traveler and connecting to their networks, they are going to take steps—firm steps—to seek out information on your computer,” Martinez says. “I would counsel travelers overseas to certain identified risky countries to take loaner laptops…and don’t bring anything with them that could be stolen off that laptop.”