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Trade Secrets

Intellectual property includes patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets.  A trade secret is information that:  a) is not generally known to the public, b) confers an economic benefit on its owner as a result of not being public, and c) is the subject of reasonable efforts to maintain its secrecy.  Employers often require employees to sign non-disclosure agreements preventing the employee from using or disclosing trade secrets to others.

Unlike patents, trade secrets never expire so long as the information remains confidential.  On the other hand, the holder of a trade secret has no claim against someone else who develops the trade secret..

Minnesota has adopted the Uniform Trade Secrets Act ("UTSA"), as have most other states. Under the act, it is unlawful to acquire a trade secret through improper means or from another person knowing that the person acquired the trade secret unlawfully.  It is also unlawful to disclose or use the trade secret without consent when the circumstances create a duty not to disclose or use it.  A sucessful plaintiff may be entitled to injunctive relief prohibiting further infringement, damages, including a reasonable royalty in appropriate cases, and reasonable attorney fees if the violation was willful and malicious.

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