Was the technical information that a former Softbank employee took to his new job a trade secret?

A former Softbank employee is charged with violating the Unfair Competition Prevention Act for illegally taking Softbank’s technical information to Rakuten Mobile, his new employer. It was the information on 5G, ultra-fast and high-capacity communication standard. The first trial was held at the Tokyo District Court on December 7. Reportedly, the former employee stated that he was not aware that the information he took out was a trade secret. That information was not password protected and had no value to other companies, he also claimed.

In order to qualify as a trade secret protected by the Unfair Competition Prevention Law, the information must meet the following three requirements:

  • Appropriately managed as a secret (Confidentiality management)
  • Useful information (Usefulness)
  • Not available to the public (Not publicly known)

From the news report, it seems that the former employee is arguing that the information in question is not a trade secret because it lacks the requirements of confidentiality management and usefulness.

However, he even took the trouble to bring that information to his new job. So, it must be useful in its own way. In general, the requirement of confidentiality management is often the more important issue.

In order to satisfy the confidentiality requirement, the company’s intention to manage the information as confidential must be clearly demonstrated to the employees through reasonable control measures, and as a result, the employees must be able to easily recognize such intention of the company. For example, marking “confidential” on the confidential documents or using passwords to control who can view them.

How do you manage confidential information in your company? Can you tell which information is confidential? You should not expect individual employees to make rational decisions. This case may be a good opportunity for you to review the management of confidential information in your company.