Trade secrets are intellectual property: information (technical
or non-technical) that can be used in operating a business
or other enterprise that is valuable and secret that it creates
an actual or potential economic advantage over others.
The concept of the protection of trade secrets goes far back
— under Roman law a person who induced someone to divulge
information about their master’s commercial affairs
was subject to punishment; modern trade secret law dates back
to the Industrial Revolution in England.
The rise of the information economy has made trade secrets
increasingly important, as well as more likely to be stolen
(as has a more mobile workforce and use of consultants and
contractors) and it is a growing area of litigation.
Trade secret laws do exist in Canada. In the workplace, confidential
information may not simply be labeled as such on a data sheet
and the ingredients not be disclosed (as is the case in the
In Canada, a company has to apply for an exemption to the
Hazardous Material Review Commission. The commission determines:
- Whether it is a legitimate trade secret (which they almost
- Reviews the entire data sheet for accuracy. The company
still has to disclose the inherent hazards and potential
health effects of the ingredient(s) and describe the chemical
nature of that secret ingredient.