In today’s competitive business world, what sets successful businesses apart from the unsuccessful ones may only be an idea, a special process, or a painstakingly created, client list -- often referred to as “trade secrets” or “confidential information.”
Such assets are and should be precious to a business, and represent a huge investment in time, money and resources. Yet, repeatedly, such valuable assets are stolen from an employer – more often than not, by their own employees.
The problem is simple, while most businesses realize the value of their trade secrets, they do not take necessary actions to properly secure them, especially from their own employees. With information being stored on computers, it is easy for those inside and outside a business to steal information with merely the click of a mouse.
What is worse is that a company’s failure to properly protect trade secrets may make it impossible for it to take any legal action once the secret is stolen. Fortunately there are simple, inexpensive steps your business can take to secure your valuable confidential client and business information and protect it against theft by employees, business partners and others:
- Clearly mark all confidential information. “Confidential.”
- Keep trade secrets under lock and key and have password protection for computer files containing such information.
- Have strong policies regarding the treatment of and access to this information, and enforce them.
- Limit access to confidential information – to only those with a business need.
- Limit employees’ ability to make copies of confidential information.
- Have all employees and contractors with access to confidential information sign Confidentiality Agreements.
There are also some special considerations to protect client lists:
- Client lists should never be allowed off company premises.
- Keep a record of who gathered information on or developed the client.
- Keep a record of the work required to compile the list.
- Make sure your lists are more than just names, numbers and addresses, but contain information regarding the clients’ preferences, discounts provided, past buying habits, even their birthdays or information about sports teams they favor, or special foods/restaurants they prefer.
- Have employees that can steal your clients sign non-solicitation and non-competition agreements.
If you have confidential business information you wish to protect, competent professional advice, including legal counsel, should be engaged to develop proper procedures, policies and agreements.