In the U.S., a trade secret can be a number of things—devices, formulas, ideas, and processes—that give the owner of such a distinct market advantage. Trade secrets can be movie scripts, customer lists, and special types of computer hardware. For this reason, the owner wants to have some protection to ensure that the public or competitors cannot get the trade secrets by improperly accessing files containing the secrets (that is, proprietary information) and stored in computers.
Trade secret laws have been passed in various jurisdictions. In the United States, the major federal law pertaining to trade secret theft is the Economic Espionage Act (EEA) of 1996, which gives the U.S. Attorney General the right to prosecute any individual or company guilty of trade secret misappropriations. The Act pertains to thefts occurring within U.S. boundaries as well as outside the United States if the thief is a U.S. citizen or corporation. Violators, if found guilty, can be fined up to $500,000 if individuals, or up to $5 million if corporations, and can be sent to jail for up to 10 years. Violators acting on behalf of a foreign government can get double the fine and spend up to 15 years behind bars.
See Also: Intellectual Property (IP).
Elais, S. Trade Secret Law: Overview. [Online, 1998.] Marketing Today Website. http://www.marketingtoday.com/legal/tradesec.htm; Nolo, Inc. Trade Secrets Basic FAQ. [Online, 2002.] Nolo, Inc. Website. http://cobrands.business.findlaw.com/intellectual_ property/nolo/faq/90781CA8-0ECE-4E38-BF9E29F7A6DA5830.html#48637D5E-5443- 4BCB-BE711598E9369ACC.