Career Requirements and Responsibilities in Trade Secret Law

Help clients protect their proprietary information

Silhouette of business people negotiating at meeting table
••• FangXiaNuo/Getty Images

Trade secret law is a branch of intellectual property law that addresses the protection of proprietary information against unauthorized commercial use by others. Misappropriation of trade secrets is forbidden by the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (UTSA) and the Economic Espionage Act of 1996.  

Unlike other forms of intellectual property, such as patents, copyrights, and trademarks, organizations cannot register their trade secrets with the government to protect their proprietary information. The only way to ensure the protection of a trade secret is to keep the information confidential, and this can necessitate a variety of legal interventions. Lawyers practicing trade secret law help their clients protect secret and proprietary information, and they litigate the misappropriation of trade secrets.

Job Responsibilities of a Trade Secret Lawyer 

Trade secret attorneys help clients navigate the landscape of trade secret enforcement and litigation. They can work on behalf of both plaintiffs and defendants.

Attorneys help to protect a client’s trade secrets through licensing agreements, non-disclosure agreements, confidentiality agreements, and non-competition agreements, all of which are becoming increasingly common in today's business world. These agreements restrict those with certain knowledge or information from disseminating it to others.

These attorneys also handle litigation relating to the misuse, misapplication of or theft of trade secrets with or without such agreements and restrictions in place. Litigation can include claims of unfair competition, unfair solicitation, and the violation of non-competition agreements. Attorneys can file lawsuits or seek restraining orders or preliminary injunctions against former employees and competitors who seek to misappropriate a company’s trade secrets.

Why Trade Secret Law Is Hot

Trade secrets are one of an organization’s most valuable assets. Today’s competitive business landscape has placed a company’s trade secrets—such as product formulations, customer lists, and manufacturing processes—at risk of theft by employees, business partners, and competitors.

For example, the booming oil industry is fueling trade secrets litigation within the domestic energy industry where companies are increasingly suing one another for raiding each other's workforces. Lawsuits in other industries are also increasing as companies claim that their top workers are unlawfully swiped by rivals, either for their talent, their secrets, or both.

When those employees move from one company to another, they often take with them a vast knowledge of their former company's processes, customer lists, and product formulations. 

Because trade secrets provide a company with a competitive advantage in the marketplace, a company must be able to operate profitably without having their trade secrets compromised. Lawyers practicing trade secret law play an important role in helping clients protect secret and proprietary information and enforcing trade secret laws.

Education and Background

In addition to a law degree and admittance to a state's bar association, a background in science, engineering, or technology is often helpful as well.

A secondary degree or related experience can help in understanding and protecting a client’s secret technologies, chemical formulas, manufacturing processes, and other secret information. For example, a lawyer with a chemistry degree might lend his talents to pharmaceutical companies to help protect their medicinal formulas. Lawyers with engineering backgrounds can be in a better position to understand and protect a client's manufacturing processes.