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Should Dissimilar Uses Of Trade Secrets Be Actionable?

Joseph Fishman and Deepa Varadarajan address a critical question in their new article, Similar Secrets: should trade secret law prohibit substantially dissimilar uses of trade secret information by those who took that information through improper means or in violation of a duty of confidentiality to the information’s owner, particularly when those dissimilar uses result in innovative new pursuits of high social value? Under current doctrine such an action would likely lead to a viable claim of trade secret misappropriation. But should this type of “retooling” really be discouraged by trade secret law?

This Response shows that the article’s thesis—that trade secret law should imitate copyright law’s willingness to permit substantially dissimilar uses of content—conflicts with trade secret law’s fundamental purpose: to protect the integrity of secret information. Whereas Fishman and Varadarajan have turned to copyright law for help, it makes more sense to focus on improving the doctrines we already have. Improving existing doctrines will do more to ameliorate concerns about hindering innovative new uses, while maintaining trade secret law’s fundamental goals.