Dare to share? Proposed new directive should help protect your confidential information when doing business in Europe

By Claire Davies

The European Commission has proposed a new directive (entitled the ‘Directive on the protection of undisclosed know-how and business information [trade secrets] against their unlawful acquisition, use and disclosure’), which should help businesses to stop others from obtaining, disclosing or using their trade secrets in the EU without their permission.

The proposal comes off the back of two studies into the protection of trade secrets in the EU, which were published by the commission in 2012 and 2013. These revealed, among other things, that one in five European companies has suffered at least one attempt to steal its trade secrets in the past 10 years. It appears that numbers are on the rise too. According to another recent study published by Kroll, 25 per cent of European companies reported theft of their information in 2013, compared with 18 per cent in the previous year.

Trade secrets — often referred to as ‘confidential business information’ or ‘undisclosed know-how’ — can be important assets for any business, including those in the life sciences sector. The information might be technical in nature (e.g. know-how relating to a manufacturing process) or it might be commercial (e.g. the results of market research). Often the information does not qualify for any formal type of intellectual property protection (such as a patent or copyright), yet many companies value the knowledge just as highly, sometimes more so, than more traditional types of intellectual property rights. It’s what gives their businesses a competitive edge. Keeping control of that information, and protecting its confidentiality, is paramount…

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