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Protecting trade secrets

EU proposal

What are trade secrets?

This is key information that companies, researchers and innovators in general keep confidential – either within their own organisation or within networks of partners – to obtain or keep a competitive advantage.
Broadly, trade secrets are 2 types of information:

  • technical (manufacturing processes, recipes, chemical compounds, etc.)
  • commercial (lists of customers, results of marketing studies, product launch data, etc.).

What exactly will change?

The new EU proposal aims to align national legislation to ensure that, if competitors steal or otherwise unlawfully acquire (or use) this information, the victim will:

  • be able to defend their rights in court
  • have access to sufficient and comparable redress across the EU.

Specifically, the proposal:

  • establishes which remedies are available (e.g. the possibility to prevent competitors using stolen information)
  • improves victims’ ability to seek compensation
  • lays down rules protecting the confidential information during litigation.

Who will benefit and how?

  • All of us – safer trade secrets increase incentives to invest in research & development, which means more jobs and new and better products.
  • All companies – although especially:
    • small and mid-sized firms & start-ups, who tend to rely even more than large companies on confidentiality.
    • innovative firms & those specialising in knowledge-based capital (know-how, R&D, creative products).

Why does action have to be taken by the EU?

Currently, the protection of trade secrets is governed by national laws only, and there are major differences between them. Some EU countries do not have specific legislation on trade secrets. This hampers trade (acquiring, sharing or licensing know-how and technology) and research throughout the EU, rendering innovation unnecessarily risky and complex. It also hinders collaboration between companies, researchers and innovators in different EU countries.