While the Massachusetts legislature continues to debate whether to ban “non-competition agreements,” support for the protection of trade secrets and confidential information remains strong. Although the Commonwealth has not adopted a version of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, Massachusetts protects trade secrets in several overlapping ways: state law provides that the theft of a trade secret can lead to double damages for the aggrieved party; the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act allows for the recovery of double or triple damages and attorney’s fees for misappropriating trade secrets; courts will enforce contracts requiring employees to maintain the confidentiality of secret information learned on the job; and courts will grant injunctions barring the improper use of confidential information in certain circumstances. However, just because a business states that information is confidential does not mean that a court will agree. Massachusetts uses a six-factor test to determine whether information is confidential:
(1) the extent to which the information is known outside of the business;
(2) the extent to which it is known by employees and others involved in the business;
(3) the extent of measures taken by the employer to guard the secrecy of the information;
(4) the value of the information to the employer and to his competitors;
(5) the amount of effort or money expended by the employer in developing the information; and
(6) the ease or difficulty with which the information could be properly acquired or duplicated by others.
Examples of trade secrets can include manufacturing processes, price lists, financial information, sales strategies, and product development plans. The six-factor test emphasizes that the information has to be a secret, and the business had to make a genuine effort to maintain its secrecy. The business does not ordinarily need to employ heroic measure to maintain secrecy, using armed guards and bank vaults. While appropriate efforts to maintain secrecy are a fact-based determination, businesses will often use non-disclosure agreements signed by employees, limit the internal disclosure of information to an as-needed basis, and ensure that no information is made publicly available (such as via the business’s website).
Businesses concerned about preserving information secrecy, or aware of a confidentiality breach, should contact a Massachusetts business attorney to ensure their interests are protected.
By Jordan Scott