We here have often cited trade secrets as the "unsung heroes" of the intellectual property world. Trade secrets don't get the same attention or coverage as patents, trademarks, or copyrights. Much of that certainly has to do with the secret part of that - after all, it's difficult to praise and appreciate something that we don't know about with any degree of specificity. We know that Coca-Cola does something that makes their drink so popular, but because we can't say what exactly that is, we chalk it up to an ineffable quality that we'll never know. But just because trade secrets are an unknown quantity doesn't make them any less important to businesses of all sizes. And a recent Senate bill may help those businesses keep those trade secrets safe.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would aid companies in taking legal action against trade secret theft. The bill, S. 1890, would allow for corporations to sue those who violate their trade secret rights in federal civil court, will now go to the floor of the Senate for a vote. The measure seemingly has considerable support from legislators in both parties, as well as from industry groups and major corporations.
This bill would serve to supplement other actions Congress has taken to reform patent law in the U.S., with legislation in the works that would seek to limit the ability of "patent trolls" to unduly extract settlements and legal decisions from businesses. As it currently stands, corporations looking to pursue legal action against trade secret thieves in state courts, an arrangement that is less than ideal for those companies pursuing thieves from other countries. In addition to allowing companies to take their cases to federal courts, the bill would allow for courts to order the seizure of assets being used in the use or spread of trade secrets. It is this provision in the bill that has caused some consternation among legislators, with opponents arguing that such measures are susceptible to the same sort of abuse seen in "patent trolling". The bill's supporters have countered by saying that the ability for courts to use asset seizure would be limited to extraordinary circumstances.
Despite some reservations among detractors, the generally strong support for the bill means that it could end up on President Obama's desk in relatively short order. And while it is frustrating for intellectual property rights proponents to see Congress dither on patent reform, strengthened trade secret protection is a positive step in the right direction.