Analysing the Trade Secrets Directive
Wouter Pors, Analysing the Trade Secrets Directive, IE-Forum.nl IEF 13607.
Bijdrage ingezonden door Wouter Pors, Bird & Bird. The European Commission has published a proposal for a Trade Secrets Directive on 28 November 2013. This is a big step forward in the long-desired harmonization of trade secret law throughout Europe. It has the potential to bring protection to the same level as in the US, where the Uniform Trade Secrets Act has been around for quite a while. It was also necessary since so far most Member States have not taken sufficient steps to implement Article 39 TRIPs, which requires a minimum level of trade secret protection.
(...) 4. Conclusion
The proposal for the Trade Secret Directive certainly is a big step forward towards effective protection. It contains a lot of useful tools and provides a comprehensive, though not perfect, delimitation of the scope of trade secrets. At the same time it is an imperfect proposal with a fundamental flaw. It denies trade secrets their full protection as intellectual property rights as required by TRIPs. The fear for too much protection has led to some provision that might render the law rather ineffective. The choice not to have trade secrets covered by the Enforcement Directive means that different sets of tools apply and essential tools for collecting evidence are missing.
It is clear that the commission also has not appreciated, or chosen not to appreciate, the problems this causes in litigation practice. Any patented invention starts with a trade secret, but even once patent protection is granted, trade secret protection is still required. Not every bit of know-how meets the requirements for patentability and not every further development or technology involved in implementing the patent can be patented, either for legal or for economic reasons. However, if the invention is then copied by an infringer, this may be a combination of patent and trade secret infringement, which the owner might want to address in a single action. Because of the diverging rules for enforcement, that might prove to be quite difficult.
The current proposal is not the final text. Some of the problems are a result of political compromise and very hard to repair. Others are more up for debate, also by legal professionals. There will be lots of opportunities for industry to have this debate in the near future. The Directive is not expected to be enacted in the very near future, probably at least not before the end of this year. It is worthwhile to have these discussions and share views with the Commission, in order to create a good system that brings Europe to the same level as the US.