Trade Secrets Law in Pennsylvania

Note: This page covers information specific to Pennsylvania. See the Trade Secrets overview for more general information.

Enacted in 2004, the Pennsylvania Uniform Trade Secrets Act ("PUTSA") is located at chapter 53 of title 12 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes. PUTSA is largely identical to the Uniform Trade Secrets Act. For generally applicable information on trade secrets claims and defenses, see Basics of a Trade Secret Claim and Publishing Trade Secrets.

Like the Uniform Trade Secret Act, PUTSA prohibits "misappropriation" of trade secrets and provides certain remedies. In addition, Pennsylvania law may impose criminal penalties for stealing trade secrets. See 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3930 (link is to the entire code; you need to choose title 18, part II, article C, chapter 39, subchapter B, and then choose the specific provision).

Definitions

12 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5302 (link is to the entire code; you need to choose title 12, part V, chapter 53, and then choose the specific provision) defines the key terms of PUTSA:

"Improper means." Includes, but is not limited to, theft, bribery, misrepresentation, breach or inducement of a breach of a duty to maintain secrecy or espionage through electronic or other means.

"Misappropriation." Includes:

(1) acquisition of a trade secret of another by a person who knows or has reason to know that the trade secret was acquired by improper means; or
(2) disclosure or use of a trade secret of another without express or implied consent by a person who:
(i) used improper means to acquire knowledge of the trade secret;
(ii) at the time of disclosure or use, knew or had reason to know that his knowledge of the trade secret was:
(A) derived from or through a person who had utilized improper means to acquire it;
(B) acquired under circumstances giving rise to a duty to maintain its secrecy or limit its use; or
(C) derived from or through a person who owed a duty to the person seeking relief to maintain its secrecy or limit its use; or
(iii) before a material change of his position, knew or had reason to know that it was a trade secret and that knowledge of it had been acquired by accident or mistake.

"Person." A natural person, corporation, business trust, estate, trust, partnership, association, joint venture, government, governmental subdivision or agency or any other legal or commercial entity.

"Trade secret." Information, including a formula, drawing, pattern, compilation including a customer list, program, device, method, technique or process that:

(1) Derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable by proper means by, other persons who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use.
(2) Is the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain its secrecy.

For generally applicable information on how a trade secrets claim works, see Basics of a Trade Secret Claim.

Remedies

If the court finds that a defendant has misappropriated a plaintiff's trade secret(s), it may impose the following remedies:

  • Injunctive Relief: PUTSA empowers a court to order a defendant to stop violating the plaintiff's rights and to take steps to preserve the secrecy of the plaintiff's information. See 12 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5303 (link is to the entire code; you need to choose title 12, part V, chapter 53, and then choose the specific provision). Most importantly, this means that a court has the authority, as far as the law of trade secrets goes, to order you to stop publishing someone's trade secrets if it finds that your publication amounts to misappropriation. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution may limit the court's ability to do so, however. For details, see Publishing Trade Secrets.
  • Damages: A court can make a defendant pay money damages to the plaintiff for the economic harm suffered as a result of a trade secret violation. This may include the plaintiff's losses resulting from the misappropriation and the defendant's profits derived from it. If the court determines that the defendant acted willfully or maliciously, it may award the plaintiff punitive damages in an amount up to twice its actual damages. See 12 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5304 (link is to the entire code; you need to choose title 12, part V, chapter 53, and then choose the specific provision).
  • Attorneys' Fees: If a plaintiff sues and wins, the court may award attorneys' fees if it finds that the defendant acted willfully or maliciously. On the other hand, if the defendant wins, the court may award attorneys' fees if it finds that the plaintiff acted in bad faith when filing the lawsuit. The court may also award attorneys' fees if a motion to terminate an injunction is made or resisted in bad faith. See 12 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5305 (link is to the entire code; you need to choose title 12, part V, chapter 53, and then choose the specific provision).

Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations for a trade secret claim in Pennsylvania is three years. See 12 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5307 (link is to the entire code; you need to choose title 12, part V, chapter 53, and then choose the specific provision).

 

Last updated on May 6th, 2008

   
 
Copyright 2007-13 Digital Media Law Project and respective authors. Except where otherwise noted,
content on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License: Details.
Use of this site is pursuant to our Terms of Use and Privacy Notice.