July 09, 2020 Articles

Hiding in Plain Sight: Considerations Regarding Protections Given to Obvious Trade Secrets

What happens when the secret is obvious but the information it interacts with is not?

By Kevin P. McCoy, William “Ty” Giltinan, and Michael G. Zilber

Businesses that rely on outside vendors to manipulate their data to make it more useful may be surprised to find out that, even though the data is theirs, the procedure to process that data may belong to their vendor such that switching vendors will lead to a lawsuit. Importantly, while certain components of a trade secret may be open and obvious, aspects of that secret not visible to the naked eye can still find protection. For example, it is no secret that a spreadsheet has data in it. Indeed, the data may be well-known. Yet, if one does not know how the cells link together to produce an output, a trade secret may lie therein.

So, when can information that is obvious and known still find trade secret protection because of how the information interacts with other, secret information? Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals analyzed this interesting issue in Mapei Corp. and Southeastern Printing Co. v. J.M. Field Marketing Inc., No. 4D19-2380, 2020 WL 2464824 (Fla. 4th DCA May 13, 2020).

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