Thursday, February 18, 2010

Trade Secrets versus Ordinary Patent Law

Trade secrets are a method of protecting highly valuable information, to a much larger degree than a patent. While patent violations are seen as almost a trivial matter by many (although admittedly, not by those whose patent was violated), trade secret violation cases usually get a lot of press and attention. Today we look at trade secret law in depth and criminal lawyers explain the differences between trade secrets and ordinary patents.

Ordinary patents
When an ordinary patent expires, the information it contains becomes the property of the public domain. Ordinary patents are sometimes accessible to the public, and while a particular process or product may be patented, there is nothing to stop a competitor using the information contained therein to set up an alternative process that reaches the same end for a consumer.
Trade secrets
Criminal lawyers that deal with trade secret law have to be familiar with state regulations - trade secrets are a state-by-state matter. If a company is looking to get a piece of information protected by trade secrets law, they will have to demonstrate three things (generally):
  • That the information is not common public knowledge, or common knowledge within the business's industry
  • That the information has demonstrable financial value
  • That the information has been protected and maintained as confidential by its owner.
The first and third requirements are obviously to prevent people becoming criminals after the fact - for example, if the recipe for KFC chicken had been in the public domain in the 1850s, and then Colonel Sanders had sought to protect it with trade secret law, every housewife who passed the recipe onto her neighbour could be considered a trade secrets criminal.
Maintaining a trade secret
By the same token, it is not fair to allow employees easy access to information which holds such a high value, and expect it to be kept entirely confidential. A company with a trade secret should take measures like the following to protect it:
  • Marking any documents that hold the secret as confidential
  • Restrict the copying of confidential documents
  • Requiring employees with access to sign confidentiality agreements and non-disclosure agreements

Criminal lawyers sometimes do not recommend that very valuable information be protected as a trade secret rather than with a patent. When reverse engineering is a possibility by a competitor, a patent may be a wiser choice.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Business/Corporation Involvement in White Collar Crime

Many people -- even many people in high positions in business -- aren’t aware that corporations can actually be charged with offenses, just like individual people committing crimes. Criminal lawyers often have to defend businesses, both against civil suits and against criminal suits, although the crimes that each individual person within the business committed, may not have made a large impact by themselves. Today we look at when and why a corporation can be charged with a crime.
What types of charges can be brought against businesses?
Companies and organisaitons can have either criminal or civil charges laid against them. Some examples of common suits that are brought against corporations including violating antitrust laws, engaging in racketeering, failing to keep required records, violating employment law, etc. These civil suits are the most common ones handled by Florida defense lawyers.
However, if the managers of a business are seen to be exceptionally indifferent to the criminal activities of its staff, or to condone them in any way, criminal charges may be brought against the business itself.
How can a business avoid criminal or civil charges?
This question is quite simple for most private citizens -- simply avoid doing anything that you know is illegal, and check on the legality of any new activities you engage in. For a business, it is not so simple. The culpability of a company in a criminal activity or a civil suit depends on what its employees do. Broadly speaking, a business must monitor for illegal activity, respond to allegations or suspicions about it, and cooperate with investigations.
Here are some tips for businesses looking to ensure they don't need their own criminal lawyer for the activities of their employees:
  • Monitor - Monitor all appropriate records -- conduct internal audits of any records that have a legal ramification. For example, financial records, occupational health and safety records, etc, should all be checked internally to uncover problems before the law does.
  • Implement - Appropriate compliance and regulatory mechanisms in a business. Obviously the specific nature of these will vary vastly, but a criminal lawyer or business consultant can help determine them.
  • Listen - for any rumors ore reports of illegal activities by employees and investigate them appropriately. In many cases, managers tend to take a 'not my problem' attitude to reports of criminal wrongdoings by staff. They don't realize the impact it can have on the business itself.
Co-operate - with any investigations by the law that the business didn’t know about beforehand. Further charges could be laid on the business itself if police and prosecutors don't get easy access to required evidence for an individual trial.