General Assembly Panel
4:20 pm
Thu August 8, 2013

Protecting Trade Secrets

Virginia inventors, entrepreneurs, and university researchers could get additional state protection for their trade secrets under proposals being discussed by a General Assembly panel. 

The plan would need to mesh with federal policies on patents, which take precedence over state law.  Lawmakers not only hope to make the Commonwealth an innovation-friendly state …but want to protect inventors against frivolous litigators called “patent trolls.”

The panel says intellectual property laws need updating to reflect the Virginia economy’s growing reliance on technology AND court rulings that make some discoveries ineligible for patents. The George Mason University Foundation’s Thomas Woolston says Virginia should be for inventors.

“If it can’t be protected as a patent property, maybe it can be protected as a trade secret to still provide the commercial incentives to the company to develop these discoveries into useful products.”  

Panel chair and Delegate Joe May designed the yellow first-down line for TV football games and holds 22 patents.  May says businesses are also harassed by patent trolls, who claim their ideas have been usurped.
“And they say either you cut us in on this or we will sue you for patent infringement.  Often it’s just easier to settle with them than it is to fight them because it’s very expensive.”

One proposal could enable inventors to register trade secrets with the state, which would give them tools to defend against lawsuits, and protect their inventions if they can’t be patented—or until they are.