The phrase trade secret is a legal term of art defined by statute. Under Washington law, a trade secret is information that is valuable because it is not generally known to, and not readily ascertainable, by others who can gain economic value from its disclosure, and that is subject to reasonable efforts to maintain its secrecy.
In some cases, a customer list can qualify as a trade secret if it meets the statutory tests. But, if you list your customers on your website, your customer list cannot qualify as a trade secret because the customer list is not subject to any secrecy steps; it is readily ascertainable on your website. The law of trade secrets does not protect information disclosed without establishing a basis for its confidentiality.
In a famous Washington trade secrets case, the court gave some useful examples of what is meant by readily ascertainable in the context of a customer list. The court explained, that "trade secret protection will not generally attach to customer lists where the information is readily ascertainable. If information is readily ascertainable from public sources such as trade directories or phone books, then customer lists will not be considered a trade secret and a prior employee, not subject to a non-competition agreement, would be free to solicit business after leaving employment."
As you evaluate your trade secrets protection plan, and any planned trade secrets litigation, care should be taken up front to carefully vet the "readily ascertainable" issue. Are you, and have you, taken adequate steps to maintain the secrecy of the information you convey trade secret status upon or is it readily ascertainable?
2016 Copyright | Mark D. Walters