These days, I don’t write about the law very much because I am no longer seeking clients for my independent practice. I’m focusing, instead, on my freelance writing business, blogging, and growing my social media platforms. But, I’m still a lawyer and I still think like one. When it comes to business and branding, I think it’s very important to protect your trade secrets. It’s not about competition; it’s about protecting what you’ve built.
In today’s online world, most content creators are influenced by one another. For example, a big trend will hit like “contouring” and the next thing you know, every beauty blogger is making videos about contouring, and all the makeup brands are coming out with contouring kits. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. There is also nothing wrong with giving credit to those who influence you or putting your own spin on something.
But, there is a difference between sharing ideas and giving away trade secrets. What is a trade secret? According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, a “trade secret,” consists of “a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique, or process.” “It must be used in business and give an opportunity to obtain an economic advantage over competitors who do not know or use it.”
Anastasia Beverly Hills, a makeup brand, has a popular contouring kit that many bloggers use. Although there are lots of contouring kits on the market, their formula is unique, and it’s a secret. As a brand, they have a responsibility to protect that secret formula; if they don’t, other companies can copy it, Anastasia Beverly Hills can lose business, and they may even lose protection for that intellectual property if they did not do their due diligence to protect their trade secret.
As another example, Chick-Fil-A has some type of process to cook its chicken in a timely manner, and to prepare enough for its busy times, and the company also has a process to move the line at lunch time much faster than its competitors. Chick-Fil-A is not going to share those processes with other competitors. This does not mean that the executives that run the business are insecure; it means that they are smart business people. KFC is still famous for it’s “secret recipe.”
There are also appropriate times to collaborate. For example, beauty brands will come together to hold a conference or beauty event where they will share customer information, in hopes to grow each of their brands. Several restaurants could come together to fight a certain government regulation, or to sponsor a food event. So, it’s not that competitors can’t work together, only that they must also act in their own best interests.
What does that mean for creators today?
It means that bloggers, brands, and businesses must be diligent about how and how much information they share when collaborating with other influencers and hiring help. Some ways to protect a brand are to use non-disclosure and non-compete agreements where appropriate, or to simply limit the information that is shared.
Some bloggers like Pat Flynn share lots of free information about their processes. By giving back, he has gotten so much in return. But, as his brand has grown, he has had to conceal some information like how much he pays his contractors, and how much he makes form some specific affiliate programs. His affiliate rate from Bluehost, for example, is higher than most influencers, and to protect that relationship, he must withhold some information. He also sells books and courses in addition to all the information that he provides for free.
We live an age where it seems like information should be free and readily available, but truthfully, some information must still be treated as confidential for the betterment of our brands. Don’t feel bad about protecting what you’ve built! When you run a creative business, or digital brand, ultimately your intellectual property is your most valuable asset.