Trade secrets enjoy significant protection in Maryland

In the employment world, the relationship between employee and employer can be extremely complex, especially given the several duties that employees owe to their employers. In many instances, these duties are born out of contracts, such as in the case of non-disclosure and non-compete agreements. Indeed, the violation of such agreements may even give rise to a breach of contact claim.

However, it is important to remember that some duties exist in the employment context regardless of whether or not an employment contract has been signed by the employee. For instance, in Maryland, the state's Uniform Trade Secrets Act expressly protects an employer from having its trade secrets misappropriated and disclosed by an employee, even if the employer and employee have not executed an employment contract.

Maryland trade secret law

Maryland law outlines several actions that may be considered trade-secret misappropriation. It is important to note, however, that while an employee - or ex-employee - is often the culprit when it comes to the misappropriation of trade secrets, these laws apply equally to anyone involved in the stealing of a company's secrets.

Specifically, misappropriation in Maryland may simply involve the acquisition of an employer's trade secret by another company who knows, or has reason to know, it was obtained by improper means, such as theft by a past employee. However, misappropriation is not limited to merely the acquisition of a trade secret, but can include the illegal disclosure or use of a trade secret as well.

For instance, Maryland law clearly states that misappropriation can include the disclosure or use of an employer's trade secret, without consent, by an individual who:

  • Used improper means to obtain the trade secret
  • Knew, or had reason to know, that the information was a trade secret and that it had been acquired by accident or mistake
  • Knew, or had reason to know, at the time of disclosure that the knowledge of the trade secret was derived through another individual who used improper means to obtain it, derived though an individual who owed a duty to maintain its secrecy, or acquired under circumstances in which there was a duty to maintain its secrecy

Interestingly, many states and jurisdictions have enacted trade-secret legislation similar to Maryland's - although often with slight variations - including the District of Columbia.

Legal guidance is often needed

Given the time and expense that employer's put into developing trade secrets, it is no wonder why they wish to protect them. However, it can often be a tedious process attempting to hold employees, or ex-employees, liable when they steal and/or disclose trade secrets, which is why it is often best to seek the counsel of an experienced business attorney. A skilled attorney can explain these often-confusing laws and help you obtain the relief you may be entitled.