Trade secrets are arguably the most common form of intellectual property transmitted across borders in today’s global market. Any business that seeks to capitalize on foreign market opportunities—either by working with a foreign partner or establishing their own foreign operations—is likely to transmit confidential information abroad. However, such cross-border transmissions directly impact the legal protections afforded to such information as the extent of trade secret protection and enforceability of trade secret rights varies between countries. Examining some of the main differences in trade secret protection and enforceability between countries is important as businesses increasingly must choose how to contractually structure protections for their confidential information abroad. Further, understanding the extent of trade secret protections afforded to confidential information in different markets can help businesses establish effective country-specific trade secret protection strategies that address the strengths and weaknesses of a particular country’s legal protections for trade secrets.Particular factors that should be considered include:
- Qualifying confidential information
- Injunctive enforceability of trade secret rights
- Foreign judicial system effectiveness
Qualifying Confidential Information. A preliminary factor for businesses to consider is the extent to which their confidential information is protected under a country’s trade secret laws. Most countries have adopted a minimum level of legal protections for trade secrets, yet such protections often vary. World Trade Organization (WTO) member states are required to adopt minimum legal protections for trade secrets. Under Article 3 and Article 39(2) of The Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), WTO member states must provide persons or entities of their countries and other WTO member states legal rights to prevent the disclosure of lawfully-held information that:
- Is secret in the sense that it is not, as a body or in the precise configuration and assembly of its components, generally known among or readily accessible to persons within the circles that normally deal with the kind of information in question;
- Has commercial value because it is secret; and
- Has been subject to reasonable steps under the circumstances, by the person lawfully in control of the information, to keep it secret.
As this widely accepted minimum legal requirement is ambiguous, WTO member states have the ability to establish their own variation, often differing the amount and type of confidential information qualifying for trade secret protection. For example, the U.S. and China provide legal protection for confidential information that has actual (current) or potential commercial value, where TRIPS is silent about the time to which such value must be established. This means that a business that has developed or acquired confidential information that will be commercially valuable at a future date will qualify for legal protection for such information in these countries, subject to protection and secretive requirements.
In contrast, several countries are silent on this commercial value issue and maintain other factors for determining trade secret protection. For example, in India, trade secrets have been judicially defined as “formulae, technical know-how or a peculiar mode or method of business adopted by an employer which is unknown to others.” Not only is this definition silent on when commercial value must be established, it is also silent on what constitutes sufficiently reasonable protection procedures for such information to qualify for trade secret protection.
As these examples illustrate, countries often maintain different qualifying standards for trade secret protection despite satisfying their TRIPS obligations. Based on these differences, businesses must carefully determine what portions of their confidential information qualifies for trade secret protection in a particular country.
Injunctive Enforceability of Trade Secret Rights. Trade secret owners must also consider their ability to protect their trade secrets through injunctive relief in a particular country. Most countries will grant a permanent injunction against a person or entity after they are found by a Court to have misappropriated a trade secret. However, this often requires initiating and succeeding in a legal action, which is not certain to succeed and may take a substantial amount time before being granted. This could harm the commercial value of the confidential information, and in many cases, the potential success of the trade secret owner’s foreign business operations or strategies. As a result, seeking a preliminary injunction, namely an injunction sought at the onset of a trade secret misappropriation proceeding, is essential to effective trade secret protection.
A business’ ability to seek a preliminary injunction to protect their trade secret varies from country-to-country. In the U.S., a trade secret owner may seek a preliminary injunction against a misappropriating party or parties providing them assistance through an initial motion in a misappropriation proceeding. Although U.S. jurisdictions generally maintain high evidentiary burdens for trade secret owners to obtain preliminary injunctions, U.S. courts allow evidentiary exchanges between the parties (known as discovery) and copies of original evidence to be admissible under specific requirements. U.S. courts may also permit discovery proceedings to be expedited based on the sensitivity of the confidential information at issue.
In contrast, other countries make obtaining a preliminary injunction more difficult. For example, preliminary injunctions are rarely granted in Chinese trade secret cases due to the absence of a discovery process and restrictive evidentiary burdens. Chinese trade secret proceedings do not have discovery processes and Chinese Courts will generally only accept original written forms of evidence. This means that trade secret owners in China are forced to gather their own evidence, and can only admit original written evidence, which makes satisfying the evidentiary burden to obtain an preliminary injunction substantially more difficult.
As illustrated with China’s trade secret injunction procedures, trade secret owners need to determine what challenges they will face in enforcing their trade secret protections under a country’s judicial procedures, regardless of the extent of a country’s trade secret protections.
Foreign Judicial System Effectiveness. Even if a country’s injunctive judicial procedures are surmountable, a country must also have an effective judicial system to even allow injunctive enforcement to be brought forward. This requires determining whether a country has an effective judicial system to enforce trade secret protections. There are several resources for businesses to determine the effectiveness of a foreign country’s judicial system, including their national IP offices and trade agencies. In the U.S., the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) publishes annual reports (known as Special 301 Reports) that identify IP enforcement concerns for U.S. IP owners by country, including ineffective judicial systems. For example, in the 2013 USTR Special 301 Report, the USTR identified Argentina, Bulgaria, Greece, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Paraguay, Peru and Turkey as having judicial system inefficiencies for enforcing IP rights.
Parting Notes. Although the above-mentioned factors are important when evaluating cross-border trade secret protections, examining such factors only comprise a portion of an effective foreign trade secret protection strategy. Establishing the best protections for trade secrets abroad should also include other protection measures including the development of internal business protocols to prevent unauthorized information disclosures, among other procedures. Working with qualified counsel can effectively assist with evaluating both the above-mentioned factors and internal business protocols.
 Uniform Trade Secrets Act, § 1.4; 18 U.S.C. § 1839(3)(b).
 J. Benjamin Bai and Guoping Da, Strategies for Trade Secrets Protection in China, 9 Nw. J. Tech. & Intell. Prop. 351, 359 (2011) available at http://scholarlycommons.law.northwestern.edu/njtip/vol9/iss7/1 (citing Zui Gao Ren Min Fa Yuan Guan Yu Shen Li Bu Zheng Dang Jing Zheng Min Shi An Jian Ying Yong Fa Lv Ruo Gan Wen Ti De Jie Shi, Interpretation of Supreme People’s Court on Some Issues Concerning the Application of Law in the Trial of Civil Cases Involving Unfair Competition, art. 10, Fashi 2/2007 (Sup. People’s Ct. 2007) (China)).
 Pedro A. Padilla Torres, Overview of International Trade Secret Protection, National Law Center for Inter-American Free Trade, (2001) available at http://db.natlaw.com/interam/mx/ip/sp/spmxip14.htm.
 Zafar Mahfooz Nomani and Faizanur Rahman, Intellection of Trade Secret and Innovation Laws in India, J Intell. Prop Rights, 341, 346, (Jul. 2011) (citing American Express Bank Ltd. v Priya Puri (2006) III LLJ 540 (Del) (India)).
 Ronald S. Wynn, Trade Secret Litigation: TROs, Preliminary Injunctions, and Some Things to Think About First, HansonBridgett, 2-3, Mar. 2012 available at http://www.hansonbridgett.com/Our-Attorneys/~/media/Files/Publications/IP_alert_trade_secret_litigation_2012.pdf.
 Id. at 2 (burden generally includes “(1) probable success on the merits, (2) irreparable harm without the requested injunction, and (3) a balance of hardships between the trade secret claimant and the alleged misappropriator that favors the injunction”).
 Id. at 3.
 J. Benjamin Bai and Guoping Da, supra note 2, at 362-63.
In recent years, many national customs offices have established notification procedures to allow IP rights holders the ability to alert customs officials of their IP rights in order to assist them in their import inspection activities. Like Internet Service Provider takedown requests on the Internet (more information about these procedures), IP customs office notifications is a tool for IP rights holders to protect their IP rights abroad by reducing the global spread of infringing goods and content by preventing its cross-border transit—and in many cases, assisting in its destruction. However, to utilize such protection measures, an IP rights holder must ask themselves:
- Can you submit such a notification in a particular country?
- Does the country you wish to enforce your IP rights have an IP customs notification system?
- Does such a country’s national IP customs notification system include the type of IP you wish to protect?
- What are the particular foreign customs agency’s IP notification requirements?
Can you submit a IP customs notification? Generally, an IP rights holder can only submit an IP customs notification to a foreign customs office if their IP qualifies for protection in that foreign country. Determining if particular IP qualifies for protection in a country depends on the type of IP the rights holder wishes to protect and to what extent the rights holder has secured foreign legal protections. Here is how it breaks down:
Trademarks. If an IP rights holder wants to submit a foreign customs notification to protect a trademark or service mark in another country, they usually need to have registered that mark in the IP office of that specific country or through a centralized international registration mechanism like the Madrid Protocol (more information about the Madrid Protocol). This is because trademark protection is territorial, meaning that a trademark or service mark registration only grants its owner rights in the mark in the territory of the registering country. So for example, if a U.S. company registers its trademark in the U.S. for particular goods or services and wishes to protect that trademark against infringing imports into New Zealand, it must also register that mark through the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand or the Madrid Protocol in order to submit a trademark notification to the New Zealand Customs Service.
Of course there are some important exceptions to this territoriality requirement to keep in mind. The European Union maintains a community-wide trademark system (Community Trade Mark) allowing one community registration to qualify for customs notification registration in all EU member states (a list of EU member states is available here). The African Intellectual Property Organization (OAPI) also maintains a community trademark system where a single OAPI community mark registration is recognized in 16 African nations (a list of EU member states is available here).
Patents. Like trademarks, a patent rights holder must generally have a registered patent in the country to which they wish to register an IP customs notification. Unlike trademarks, however, there are no current community registration exceptions. As a result, patent rights holders must register their patents in the country to which they wish to register their IP customs notifications.
Trade Secrets: Generally, as trade secrets require that their owners keep the content of their secrets confidential in order to maintain its legal protections, any disclosure of such secrets to customs officials likely eliminates such secrets’ protections. Therefore, there does not appear to be any national customs IP notification systems that permit trade secret notification.
Copyright. Unlike trademarks and patents, a work qualifying for copyright protection in one country may qualify for copyright protection in other countries in order to allow foreign customs notification registration. However, depending on the country, foreign copyright authors may need to file a copyright registration in order to submit an IP customs notification. A work qualifies for international copyright protection under the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (Berne Convention) when it becomes attached. Attachment requires that the author of the work be a national of a Berne Convention country (Berne Convention countries), the author is a habitual resident of a Berne Convention country, that the work is first published in a Berne Convention country, or that the work is published in a Berne Convention country within 30 days after an initial publishing in a non-Berne Convention country. If a work is attached through any of these means, it is treated as if the work originated in each Berne Convention country, and is then subject to each Berne Convention country’s copyright protection requirements in order to qualify for copyright protection in that specific country.
If a work qualifies as an attached work under the Berne Convention and the IP rights holder wishes to register their protected work in a foreign Berne Convention country customs office, they will be able to file a customs registration without having authored the work in the foreign Berne Convention country. Yet, as mentioned above, countries differ on national copyright registration requirements for IP customs notifications. Australia, for example, does not require Australian copyright registration prior to submitting a customs notification application to the Australian Customs Service. However, several major markets, such as the U.S., China and India, require that copyrighted works be registered in their country prior to registering an IP customs notification.
Does the country you wish to enforce your IP rights have an IP customs notification system? Not all countries maintain IP customs notification processes. Some substantial and growing markets, such as Brazil, Canada and Chile, do not currently maintain IP custom notification systems. However, many major markets and transshipment countries maintain various types of IP customs notification systems including Argentina, Australia, China, European Union (EU), Hong Kong, India, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, United States and Vietnam, among others.
Does such a country’s national IP customs notification system include the type of IP you wish to protect? Several countries only maintain IP notification systems for particular types of IP. For example, The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) only accepts copyright and trademark notifications, not patent notifications (the CBP only examines imports for patent infringement based on a Section 337 exclusion order from the U.S. International Trade Commission (more information available here)). In contrast, several other countries monitor and detain imports for possible patent and geographical indication infringement. India’s Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) in particular monitors imports for copyright, geographical indication, patent and trademark infringement.
What are the particular foreign customs agency’s IP notification requirements? Once an IP rights holder verifies that their IP qualifies for legal protections in the foreign country they wish to submit an IP customs notification, and that the type of IP they wish to notify customs about can be registered, the IP rights holder’s customs notification must comply with the foreign customs office’s own notification requirements.
Below are the IP customs notification submission requirements for some of the worlds’ major markets.
Types of IP Covered
|United States||19 C.F.R. 133.1 et seq.
||Copyright and Trademark||Instructions: Copyright and trademark notification (known as e-Recordation) requires:
-The trademark or copyright’s U.S. registration number
-The name, address and citizenship of the IP rights owner
-The place(s) of manufacture of goods bearing the trademark or copyright
-The name and address of individuals authorized to use the trademark or copyright
-The identity of a parent company or subsidiary authorized to use the trademark or copyright (if any)
Fees: US $190.00 per copyright and trademark (per class of goods and services).
Effective Duration of Notification: 20 years.
|e-Recordation Notification Portal|
||Copyright Act 1968, Subsection 135(2)||Copyright and Trademark||General Notes: Australian IP customs notifications are known as Notices of Objection.To register a copyright or trademark notice with Australian Customs Service, an IP rights holder must submit: (1) a notice of objection form; and (2) a deed of undertaking. Both types of forms as well as further instructions are located in the right column.
Duration of Notification: Four years.
|China||Decree of the General Administration of Customs, No. 183||Copyright, Patent and Trademark||Requirements: To file a IP customs notification with the General Administration of Customs (GAC), an application must include:
-a copy of the IP rights holder’s business registration certificate and a Chinese translation
-a copy of the Chinese registration certificate for the copyright, patent or trademark
-Proof of Power of Attorney (if registered by an agent)
-Registration fee (see below)
-Licensing agreements (if any)
-Pictures of the relevant goods and their packaging
Submission: Forms can be filled online or by mail.
Fees:Approximately US $130.00 (800 RMB).
|GAC Online Notification Form (In Chinese)|
|European Union||Council Regulation (EC) No 1383/2003, Article 5.5||Copyright, Geographical Indication, Patent and Trademark||The EU refers to IP customs notifications as Applications For Action. Applications require: (1) a completed application form; and (2) a completed Article 6 Declaration. Both forms are located to the right.
Note: Individual EU member states may maintain their own IP customs notification systems (a link to individual EU member state customs agencies is available here).
|Community Application For Action|
|India||Notification no. 47/2007 – Customs (n.t.)||Copyright, Geographical Indication, Patent and Trademark||Registration: The CBEC requires that copyrighted works be registered with Indian Copyright Office, and geographical indications, patents and trademarks with the Office of the Controller General of Patents, Designs & Trade Marks prior to submitting a CBEC customs notification.
Ports of Entry: The CBEC also requires that notifications be submitted to particular ports of entry.
Duration of Notification: Minimum period of one (1) year.
|Online Notification Submission Portal|
**Note**: The above requirements are meant for comparative educational purposes only. IP rights holders should consult with national customs agencies or qualified attorneys in the jurisdictions they wish to enforce their rights to confirm these and other IP customs notification requirements.
Further Steps. Once an IP rights holder’s IP is registered with a foreign customs office, the foreign customs office will generally notify the rights holder or their representative of any infringing inbound shipments and may detain and potentially destroy infringing imports. However, such detentions may include legal proceedings, as well as additional country-specific enforcement procedures. IP rights holders should obtain qualified local counsel to assist with these enforcement activities.
The Obama Administration released a report late last month entitled Administration Strategy on Mitigating the Theft of U.S. Trade Secrets detailing strategies the U.S. will take to combat trade secret theft, including the pursuit of enhanced foreign legal protections for U.S. trade secrets through ongoing and future trade agreements. Particularly, the Administration will seek to establish new trade secret protections in treaty member states, similar to those provided under U.S. law, in trade agreement negotiations such as Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP; Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, U.S., Vietnam, and potentially the Philippines).
Establishing harmonized trade secret protections in trade agreements—such as the TPP—will likely provide U.S. and treaty member state businesses trade secret protections in treaty countries beyond those currently provided under international IP law. The main standard for international trade secret law, Article 39.2 of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), provides that signatory states must establish means for persons and entities to protect information that is: (a) secret; (b) commercially valuable due to its secretive status; and (c) has been kept secret through reasonable measures. However, Article 39.2 has received criticism for not providing specific requirements about what legal protections WTO member states should adopt for compliance, thereby resulting in disparate and often uneven trade secret protections from country-to-country.
The adoption of U.S.-like trade secret protections in foreign countries such as the TPP member states can help to better ensure that both U.S. and treaty member state businesses have necessary trade secret protections, both at home and abroad. Despite the Obama Administration’s call for such harmonization, it remains to be seen whether U.S.-like trade secret protections will be adopted in ongoing and future trade agreement negotiations.
The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) announced in the Federal Register today that it will host its first public hearing this year on February 7, 2013 in Washington D.C. on national security concerns in the U.S.-China economic and security relationship, which will likely include intellectual property (IP) protection issues. Titled “China’s New Leadership and Implications for the United States,” the hearing is intended to collect input from businesses, academics, and government officials on the current status of the U.S.-China relationship for the USCC’s 2013 Annual Report to Congress. The USCC’s last annual report (2012 Annual Report available here) highlighted multiple Chinese IP concerns including inadequate enforcement of IP rights for foreign goods, inconsistent Chinese IP legislation, the theft and loss of foreign businesses’ IP for such businesses operating in China and in joint-ventures with Chinese businesses, IP cyber espionage, and other related issues. Such annual reports are intended to provide recommendations to the U.S. Congress for legislative and administrative action.
The USCC is expected to hold other public hearings through 2013 as it compiles its annual report. Interested parties may attend hearings or submit comments. Further information on the February 7th hearing as well as attendance and comment submission procedures are available here.