Trade secrets can be vital to the success of any business or entrepreneurship. They are the recipes, formulas, methods of operation and tools that are the backbone of your company. As such, it is important to safeguard this valuable intellectual property.

All too often, however, individuals and businesses do not take proper steps to protect their trade secrets. In fact, they often may not even realize they have assets that need protecting.

The Small Business Association offers up the following 5 steps for protecting your trade secrets:

  1. Identify your trade secrets -What information would compromise your business if it got into a competitor’s hands? Make a list of your trade secrets, but be selective in what you chose, so you don’t trivialize the protection of valuable information.
  2. Keep trade secrets confidential – Label trade secrets as “confidential” and store them in a secure place. Keep hard copy information in a secure or locked area. Password-protect electronic files and limit access to them.
  3. Educate employees about protected information– All employees should sign a nondisclosure agreement and adhere to company policy regarding protection and proper handling of trade secret materials. Provide training and refreshers on the need for confidentiality.
  4. Understand the law – Trade secrets historically have not required a national or international registration. State laws typically governed these matters according to the Uniform Trade Secrets Act. Beginning in 2017, the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 will offer protection at the federal level.
  5. Take civil action against violations – When a competitor uses your trade secrets without permission, act quickly. If trade secrets were obtained through improper means, or misappropriation, you may be entitled to injunctive relief and monetary damages. An experienced intellectual property attorney can protect your best interests throughout this process.