Should I Keep a Secret? The Effects of Trade Secret Protection Procedures on Employees' Obligations to Protect Trade Secrets

Hannah, David R.
January 2005
Organization Science;Jan/Feb2005, Vol. 16 Issue 1, p71
Academic Journal
Organizations' trade secrets (which can be chemical formulae, recipes, customer files, machinery designs, or many other types of information) are often valuable, enduring sources of competitive advantage. In this study, the influence of organizations' formal efforts to protect trade secrets on employees' beliefs about their obligations to protect those secrets was investigated. Quantitative and qualitative data were gathered by means of survey interviews with 111 employees of two high-tech organizations. Employees' obligations were influenced by their levels of familiarity with, and their perceptions of the enforcement of, two types of trade secret protection procedures (TSPPs): trade secret access restriction procedures (ARs) and trade secret handling procedures (HPs). Employees' levels of familiarity with ARs were negatively related to their felt obligations to protect trade secrets, but the opposite was true for HPs: Employees' levels of familiarity with HPs were positively related to the obligations they felt to protect trade secrets. For both types of TSPPs, the relationship between familiarity and felt obligations was moderated by employees' perceptions of the degree to which the TSPPs were enforced.


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