By now you have heard of the secret intelligence files left on a commuter train in England.
Keith Vaz MP, chairman of the powerful Home Affairs select committee told the BBC: “Such confidential documents should be locked away…they should not be read on trains.”
This should be a reminder to the private sector regarding trade secrets.
A trade secret is not protected by a Patent, Trademark, or Industrial Design. A trade secret is confidential and proprietary information that you protect because of its commercial value and the competitive advantage that it produces for your company.
Exposing a trade secret in public by working on a critical document on an airplane, leaving a trade secret on a commuter train, or exposing it in an proposal, may eliminate the confidential nature of the data, and once you do that, you have, by definition, given up protecting it, therefore, it is not a trade secret that you can claim as proprietary — your former trade secret moves into the public domain for all to see and use.
As a competitive intelligence practitioner, I often find former trade secrets loose in the public domain due to irresponsible security practices. If the owner does not protect the trade secret, it ceases to be confidential and proprietary data, and is likely to become somebody else’s competitive advantage, or worse still, it might become a standard practice for an entire industry.