4 Septmeber 2020
This week, our information officer, Alistair, lifts the lid on a little known type of intellectual property protection that all businesses can benefit from but most are not aware of.
As a youngster, one of the things you’re told not to do by grown-ups is keep secrets, so imagine my surprise when (as an adult) I discovered it’s something being actively encouraged by experts. All the team at BIPC Glasgow have made the pilgrimage down to Newport to visit the home of intellectual property (IP) in the UK, the Intellectual Property Office (IPO). It’s there we learnt how to protect your creative assets from the experts, including keeping secrets, or to give them their full name, trade secrets. But how can not telling people about your business benefit it?
A brand built on secrets
Let’s put this in context with something you’re more familiar with, IRN-BRU. This brand is synonymous with the best of Scottish creativity. The name itself has changed through the years, launching as Iron Brew in 1901, stopping production during WW2, and re-launching as IRN-BRU in 1947 due to new regulations which meant food labelling must be ‘literally true’. This wasn’t because the drink doesn’t contain iron (made from girders if you believe the famous slogan), but because it wasn’t brewed.
AG Barr have used this unique spelling to create registered trade marks still in use today, but what about the recipe that forced this change of name? Well that’s a trade secret that only three people in the world know. This strategy of keeping the recipe secret has been part of their success in becoming Scotland’s number one soft drink, not allowing their idea to be copied by competitors.
Do I own trade secrets?
You might be saying “that’s all very well I’m not making a soft drink”, but secret recipes are just one form of trade secret. They also cover customer lists, pricing strategies, manufacturing processes, software algorithms and more. So how do you define what can be considered a trade secret? The World Intellectual Property Organisation gives three considerations:
• They must contain confidential, commercially valuable information
• Must only be known to a small group of people
• Reasonable steps must be in place to keep them confidential
Trade secrets are unregistered and can last indefinitely if not publicly disclosed. This is something that could be difficult to manage outside your business, but non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) can be drafted fairly simply to keep information confidential when dealing with third parties. The IPO have a great range of templates to help you with this. Trade secrets can also be bought and sold in the same way as other IP assets and add commercial value to your company as well as giving you a competitive edge.
Tips to keep things confidential
So if you run a business, or even if you’re planning to, there’s a good chance you own trade secrets. Here are some simple steps you can take to start integrating them into your business planning:
• Identify any confidential information that has commercial value
• Manage who has access
• Put protection in place such as passwords
• Make sure contracts contain confidentiality clauses
• Use NDAs when dealing with third parties
Keeping a secret was so much easier when you were young! If you need more tips or support then we’re here to help, along with our partners at Creation IP who offer free 30 minute appointments (currently online) to discuss your IP in a confidential environment. Just email us at email@example.com for more information, or join our Ask Me Anything About IP Twitter live session on 16th September 2020.
Alistair McCafferty Bain is Information Officer at BIPC Glasgow