18 April 2016

With one company out of every five being a victim of the theft of trade secrets every year, the EU has decided that it should be easier for firms to win legal redress against such theft or misuse.

A new directive, which had already been informally agreed with ministers from the 28 Member States, was put to the vote in the European Parliament last week and passed by a large majority.

The new legislation will introduces an EU-wide definition of "trade secret", meaning information which is secret, has commercial value because of that secrecy, and has been subject to reasonable steps to maintain its confidentiality.

Once the directive comes into force, not yet decided but likely to be late 2017, Member States will have to ensure that victims of misuse of trade secrets are able to defend their rights in court and to seek compensation.

The agreed text also lays down rules to protect confidential information during legal proceedings.

Concerns have been expressed in the UK about the proposed legislation, with journalists claiming that organisations could designate any information about their activities as "trade secrets" in order to protect themselves from investigation.

In their debate before the vote on the legislation, MEPs said that they had ensured that freedom of expression and information will be protected and that the rules will not restrict the work of journalists.

Although the final text of the directive will not be published in the EU's Official Journal for several weeks, a recent draft can be found here.