WIPO Director General Opens Symposium on Trade Secrets and Innovation

November 25, 2019

Trade secrets may warrant greater international policy attention as they support modern business relationships and, paradoxically, facilitate the sharing of confidential information, WIPO Director General Francis Gurry said in opening a symposium on the subject.

“Trade secret protection plays, as we know, a very fundamental role in any collaborative business relationship, whether it's the relationship of employer or employee, contractor or subcontractor, university research with an outside enterprise, global value chains – they all depend upon the sharing of information,” said Mr. Gurry as he welcomed participants to the WIPO Symposium on Trade Secrets and Innovation.

“Digitization has transformed everything into data. And once data is shared or communicated, it becomes information,” Mr. Gurry said. “Trade secret protection, of course, protects certain classes of confidential information from misuse or misappropriation.”

Video: Mr. Gurry's opening remarks to the WIPO Symposium on Trade Secrets and Innovation

Mr. Gurry said that trade secret protection had the unexpected effect of making it more likely that the owners of valuable information would share it with business partners:

“It's really paradoxical that the protection of secrecy enables sharing. If you don't have confidential information protected, you're not going to share it if you don't have that confidence and that security,” he said.

The November 25-26, 2019, symposium considered a range of issues related to trade secrets, including how they can be integrated into the modern innovation system as well as national and regional intellectual property (IP) strategies, their economic impact and use cases for businesses, among others.

Mr. Gurry spoke of a new digital time-stamping project PDF, WIPO digial time-stamping – scheduled for roll out next year – that will allow users to create an evidentiary proof of the existence of data at a certain time, deposited by a certain individual. Mr. Gurry said that trade secrets’ valuable role in international commerce in the digital era, among a range of other considerations, mean that trade secrets may warrant increased international policy attention.

Where do we go to from here? Well, we're at an extremely preliminary stage. We are simply having a discussion in this conference. However … I think we should have at the back of our mind the possibility of developing discussions at the international level so as to explore the possibility of coming out with some principles that might be shared internationally in an approach to trade secret protection.

WIPO Director General Francis Gurry