Trade secret theft can be extremely difficult to detect and even harder to prove in a court of law. In some cases, victims may even hold strong suspicions over the loss of certain trade secrets to former employees but, as is often the case, are unable to take any action to redress losses because of a lack of proof.
In 2010, several relationship managers of a European bank in Singapore left en masse to a rival bank. Prior to leaving the bank, they emailed data from the bank's computer system to their own personal email accounts; they also accessed and printed confidential company data. Nowadays information accessed by such means can easily be gathered from system logs, and recent advances in computer forensics have made it easier to retrieve deleted files. Thanks to such information gathering systems, these employees were subsequently charged in a Singaporean court for the unauthorised access of confidential client data.
- Establish an internal management system for trade secrets. Training and clear written guidelines are essential. As your employees may not have the same understanding of proprietary information and intellectual property rights as you, it is important to educate them on what can or cannot be disclosed.
- Adopt appropriate measures to mark and store confidential documents whether such documents are in electronic or paper format.
- Require all employees to sign an employment agreement with strict confidentiality provisions. To win a theft of trade secrets claim, you must show that the information stolen is (1) not publicly known, (2) has commercial value, and (3) that you took measures to keep it secret. When a current or former employee steals your trade secrets, having an employment agreement with confidentiality provisions is essential to show that you took measures to keep it secret.
- A useful tool to be aware of is the Singapore Misuse of Computer Act. The relatively wide definition of computer misuse makes it an offence if a person gains unauthorised access to the employer's computers to retrieve or download information. The Computer Misuse Act is relevant to the protection of trade secrets as most confidential information now tends to be stored in company computers. Complaints under the Misuse of Computer Act are often a cheap and effective way of protecting trade secrets since investigation and prosecution are carried out by the police and state prosecutor. The employer's only outlay might be in engaging a local consultant to undertake computer forensics in order to collect any evidence deemed relevant in order for the police to take the case further.