Protecting Your Company’s Confidential Information

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An article in last week’s New York Times showed the steps that companies take to protect their confidential and proprietary information. This is the information that makes a company unique, such as the recipe for Coca Cola or in the case of this article, the recipe for Thomas’ English muffins. If you have ever had one, you can only wonder how the company gets those nooks and crannies so perfect. That is precisely the trade secret that the company, Bimbo Bakeries, which know owns Thomas’, has been trying to protect.

The company filed for and was granted an injunction to prevent a former executive, Chris Boticella, who knew the entire secret process and recipe of the English muffins, from taking a job with a competing company (Hostess) and  from divulging confidential information.

The article explains how Thomas’ splits the information and provides to almost all employees only the necessary portion of the secret process and recipe. Instead, it let only 7 key employees be privy to the entire secret process and recipe. Boticella was one of these employees.

This is good way to ensure that secret and confidential information remains just that: limiting access. Requiring that employees sign a confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement is another way to protect your proprietary information. It came as a surprise to me that Bimbo didn’t require Boticella to sign a non-competition agreement, which are used in many industries to protect a business’s interests. It could be that the state where Boticella worked (from the article, it appears that it was Pennsylvania) doesn’t enforce non-competes, or that Boticella negotiated the agreement and the parties agreed that he would not be bound by one. Provided that a non-compete is reasonably drafted for both temporal and geographic restrictions, it will be upheld and enforced, at least in Minnesota.

The article got me thinking about one of my favorite local businesses, Punch Neapolitan Pizza. Like Thomas’ English muffins, the recipe for pizza crust is quite basic: flour, salt, water, olive oil. But Punch has a special process of some sort (I think I read that they let the dough rest for 24 hours….I am always too impatient when I bake or make pizza to wait that long!) that makes the crust so delicious. I wonder if the Punch employees who make the dough and the pizzas are required to sign a non-compete or a non-disclosure to protect the Punch recipe and secrets? With the success of Punch in the metro area, it wouldn’t surprise me.

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