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Protecting trade secrets requires vision

The internet has allowed companies to find new ways to offer services to customers. As these opportunities emerge, so does the chance for collaboration. However, with innovation and collaboration comes competition, and the first company to bring an idea to market often wins the spoils of ingenuity and innovation. An ongoing dispute between a company offering online vision tests and another offering eyewear shows the importance of protecting trade secrets.

Seeing the problem

In 2013, the online vision testing company Opternative and the trendy eyewear provider Warby Parker were considering a collaboration to offer online vision tests and eyewear in one stop, similar to visiting a traditional optometrist's office. To do this, Opternative offered some confidential, proprietary information and trade secrets to Warby Parker. 

The collaboration fell through, but two years later, Warby Parker unveiled its own online vision test. Opternative felt that the platforms were too similar and filed a lawsuit claiming misappropriation of their trade secrets by Warby Parker. While Opternative claims they have a right to profit from their research to develop the technology, Warby Parker says Opternative's claims are anticompetitive. Who will prevail?

The vision to protect trade secrets

The dispute between the two companies allows the opportunity to shed some light on steps companies can take to protect trade secrets. If you run a tech startup, you may not have the infrastructure to protect your company from threats to cybersecurity and trade secrets on a full-time basis.

The good news is that an outline to protecting trade secrets can be written into a business plan, and certain questions should be considered when deciding what to protect. Additional guidance can also be sought from a legal professional when drafting this plan.

Here are eight questions to ask yourself in deciding what to protect:

  • What information should be secured?
  • How will we identify and mark it as secure?
  • How will we secure computers?
  • How will the information and materials be stored?
  • Who has access to the information?
  • How do we protect information when interacting with vendors?
  • How will we train employees to protect information proactively?
  • Will we rely on a third-party security firm or a legal advisor?

As emerging technology shapes the lives of consumers and the operations of business, companies must continue to take steps to protect trade secrets.

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