Why Trade Secrets Matter to Virginia Companies

Do you know the recipe for Coca-Cola? What about the exact formula of chemicals used to create Kevlar body armor? How about the client list of Wells Fargo’s commercial division?

I doubt you can answer yes to any of the above.

I don’t have access to such proprietary information – because companies often work hard at keeping secret its non-public information. They ask employees with access to company secrets to sign confidentiality agreements to agree it cannot be shared.

Under the Virginia Uniform Trade Secrets Act and related federal laws, individuals can be prohibited from taking the secret information of one company and using it for the benefit of another company. So what information is considered a trade secret?

A trade secret is something that most of us don’t have access to outside of work. Yet, we may have access to information our employer considers to be proprietary – and if we were to leave our employer, we would not be legally allowed to take this information with us.

Under Virginia law, the following may be considered a trade secret:

  • Customer lists
  • Pricing lists and models
  • Customer contact information
  • Product information
  • Product production formulas

If you have “accidentally” kept copies of anything from your old employer – thumb drives, emails, or handbooks – you may have kept their trade secret information. Trust me, you don’t want them to find out you took this information, even innocently, and left for a job with a competitor.

So here are some tips on how to comply with the Virginia Uniform Trade Secrets Act and not get sued:

1. Take stock of what information you have before you leave and return it

2. If you have left and find you have retained some proprietary information – fess up right away and ask what they want you to do with it. Do not destroy information without their permission.

3. Confirm the destruction and return of whatever the company requests in writing.

4. Do not share your old company’s secrets with your new company.

5. Seek legal advice before responding to a demand letter or if you are unsure about the status of a trade secret.

If you do come across the recipe for Coke – and there are lots of purported versions out there – don’t believe it. I imagine the Coca-Cola Company keeps that secret pretty close to home.

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Lauren Ellerman

In 2011, Lauren Ellerman was named "Young Lawyer of the Year" by the Roanoke Bar Association for her work in the community. To speak with Lauren about your personal injury case, contact her at lellerman@frithlawfirm.com.