Trade Secrets, Innovation and the WTO
The intersection of trade secrets, innovation, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) forms a topic that is increasingly debated as part of the public discourse on intangible capital and intellectual property rights. Pointing out that the international framework governing trade secrets should be improved, the authors of this think piece propose six principles to flesh out approaches to harmonise certain dimensions of trade secret protection that are not currently specified in multilateral agreements at WTO. They can be structured to include flexibility, such as transition periods for developing countries and an exemption for least developed countries. The objective is to improve the ease of doing business internationally with respect to trade secrets, while reinforcing the incentives for further innovation and the diffusion of knowledge. The recommendations also seek to ensure labour market flexibility and employee mobility. Reforms in the area of trade secrets may include the institution of effective protection in countries that lack it now; the harmonisation of key aspects across countries that now have divergent approaches; and the establishment of minimum norms for protection. While uniformity in legal systems is not feasible for the protection of trade secrets, some alignment among WTO Members may be achieved, with benefits to a broad range of stakeholders.