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Tips for keeping trade secrets under wraps

Trade secrets may be very, very important to your business. If they get out, your ideas could be stolen and your business could be undermined. Below are a few things you should know about preventing this.

-- You do have legal protections. The Uniform Trade Secrets Act was created just for this purpose. Make sure you know what legal protection it gives you and how it can be used.

-- Always store things in places with limited access. In the past, this often meant keeping paper files under lock and key -- in a safety deposit box, a safe or a locked file cabinet, for example. This is still important, but it's also wise to use passwords and encryption software for digital files. Limit the access that people have to the secrets, and you'll lower the chances that they get out.

-- Use the right legal forms. For example, a non-disclosure form may be needed when bringing on new staff members. Make sure your staff knows what is and is not allowed. In some cases, secrets have been leaked accidentally by people who just didn't know what they were not supposed to talk about.

-- Don't be afraid to use the legal options that you have. For example, if someone steals secrets from you and profits from them, you may be able to seek compensation for your lost profits and the money that they made with your idea. In some cases, you may even find that laws have been broken and criminal charges are necessary. Don't shy away from taking the necessary action to protect yourself in California.

Source: U.S. Small Business Administration, "5 Steps for Protecting Your Trade Secrets," Barbara Weltman, accessed July 28, 2016

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