“Social Media: A Danger to Company IP”

Law360 has posted a useful article by Ben Quarmby about the dangers of employee use of social media to a company’s patents, trade secrets, and copyrights.  The big danger for trade secrets is disclosure.  Trade secrets must remain secret if they are to be protected by the law, and “[o]nce the secret has been disclosed on a social media public platform, it is difficult to place it back under wraps.”  In fact, after an employee posts a trade secret online and the company finds out, “the information may have been displayed for days, and worse, may have been reposted by any number of users.”  By the time a company has tracked down and removed the posts, “the information may well have been in the public domain so long – and been exposed to many people – that it no longer qualifies as a trade secret.”

To combat this problem, Quarmby suggests highlighting the dangers of social media to company trade secrets through employee manuals and training courses, monitoring employee activity on social media to the extent possible, and developing an efficient plan-of-attack to have posts containing trade secrets removed promptly.  I think this is all good advice, but monitoring employee activities in the social media realm can be tricky.  New privacy legislation like the new law in Maryland that bans employers from asking for employee social media passwords can make monitoring difficult.  Nevertheless, companies should watch the web for disclosures of their trade secrets to the extent they are able in order to protect their businesses.

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