Planned innovations in the protection of trade secrets
The centerpiece of the new regulations in Germany is the new Act on the Protection of Business Secrets, or GeschGehG for short. The new provisions are thus bundled into a stand-alone law instead of merely making adjustments to existing regulations. The new law opens up civil law claims such as injunctive relief and damages to companies in the event of unauthorized acquisition, use or disclosure of trade secrets. The protection of trade secrets from disclosure in the course of legal proceedings is also improved, a novelty within German civil procedure law. The central concept of a trade secret is defined by law for the first time.
In the future, only information that is secured by “appropriate confidentiality measures” will be explicitly protected. This criterion will become of central relevance for judicial practice and it will also cause difficulties, as it is clearly subject to interpretation and is also designed to be highly dependent on individual cases.
This means that in the future, the injured party must also prove the existence of the objective criterion of “reasonable secrecy measures” in a court dispute. — This means that evidence must be presented that shows that the specifically disputed, unauthorized information was kept secret within the company by means and measures that may be considered “reasonable” under the circumstances of the case. In order to be able to meet this obligation to provide evidence in the event of a dispute, companies must be prepared and define suitable internal structures and processes. IT- and software-based documentation and security systems, as well as strict compliance procedures, will in all likelihood become indispensable here.
Future case law will have to show which precautions are ultimately deemed “appropriate” in this context. It is already certain that in the future the economic value of a secret and the respective measures to protect it must be in an adequate relationship.
The future new law on the protection of trade secrets will provide a great deal of clarity and certainty in a borderline area of intellectual property law that has often been treated stepmotherly in the past. The protection of know-how and trade secrets is extended and brings them closer to the protection of intellectual property rights.
Companies will be well advised to create and consistently maintain sensible internal structures that keep the ownership and secrecy of their valuable corporate knowledge, technical and business know-how, provable. If this prerequisite is met, it will be possible in the future to consistently pursue and stop renegade former employees or criminal competitors in the event of know-how theft, for example.