In the United States, trade secret law is predominantly governed by state law. Every state except Massachusetts and New York has adopted some version of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act. Although this provides a measure of uniformity, there are still variations from state-to-state. To date, the federal government has not attempted to enact comprehensive civil trade secret legislation, but there are some federal statutes that touch on trade secret-related activities. Below are links to trade secret laws in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as federal and international laws relating to trade secrets.
(Disclaimer: This is intended as a helpful guide, not as legal advice. States are inconsistent in how and whether they publish their laws online, and you should rely on your own legal research to confirm the accuracy of this information.)
There are also two major federal laws that govern certain aspects of trade secrets. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is the federal statute governing computer hacking. It provides for criminal and civil actions against anyone who intentionally accesses a computer without authorization (or exceeds his authorized access), and thereby obtains information from a computer, if the conduct involved an interstate or foreign communication.
The Economic Espionage Act targets industrial espionage. The act makes the theft or misappropriation of a trade secret a federal crime. Congress has amended it twice recently: The Theft of Trade Secrets Clarification Act of 2012, which expanded the Economic Espionage Act so that it now covers not merely a trade secret included in products that are produced for or placed in commerce, but also trade secrets related to “a product or service used in or intended for use” in commerce. (See an Orrick client alert on the law here.) The Foreign and Economic Espionage Penalty Enhancement Act of 2012 increased the maximum fines for stealing trade secrets with the intent to benefit foreign entities from $500,000 to $5 million for individuals and from $10 million to the greater of $10 million or three times the value of the stolen trade secret for organizations.
Almost every country in the world recognizes the value of trade secrets and provides some legal protection for them. Any nation that is a member of the World Trade Organization and a signatory to the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual-Property Rights (TRIPS) is obliged to provide this protection. (The language of the Uniform Trade Secret Act, and the state statutes that have adopted it, is very similar to the language in TRIPS. Through these state laws, the United States fulfills its TRIPS obligation to provide trade secret protection.)
Article 39 paragraph 2 of TRIPS requires member nations to provide a means for protecting information that is secret, commercially valuable because it is secret, and subject to reasonable steps to keep it secret. Some countries have standalone trade secret laws that are informed by TRIPS, while other countries meet their obligations with a piecemeal approach spanning several different statutes.
In the coming weeks, Trade Secrets Watch will post overviews of trade secret law in key countries. You can find the international guides we’ve posted to date here:
Meanwhile, the European Union has posted a thorough guide to trade secret law in EU countries (excluding newly admitted Croatia). You can find the guide here.