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When Can You Protect Customer Lists From Being Stolen?


Over the years, your business has accumulated a lot of customers, and names of potential customers. You have a list compiled through business contacts or networking, that you can network to, market to, and email information to. You have worked hard, over the years, for this list of contacts.

But can you protect those names?

Just Names?

Certainly, a secret process, an invention, a recipe, or your proprietary computer code, are all trade secrets that you can protect. But a customer list is really just a list of names. Is that protectable? Or could someone, perhaps a disgruntled employee, take that list and disseminate it, or use it for his or her own benefit?

The answer is that it depends on a number of factors, but generally, it is possible for a list of customers to be considered a trade secret, thus allowing you to protect that list from being taken by or disseminated by someone else.

How You Got Your Names

The first question is how you got or compiled the customer list. If your customer list just came from public sources, it is likely not protectable. So, if someone just bought a list of names from a service, that would not be protectable—the list wasn’t acquired by you by any skill, technique, or business effort.

But if your list was compiled by your personal contacts, or the work your business did with customers, or at great expense to your company, over years of trial and error and networking, then it could have trade secret protection.

The operative question is whether someone else, if they wanted to, and with enough effort, could get the same list of names on their customer list that you have. If so, your list likely has little or no protection.

But if the list you have, which is the product of your contacts, and your business relationships, is not something someone else could just get through research or their own efforts, your list would likely have a level of trade secret protection.

How Did You Get Your List

How much it cost you, or how difficult it was to get your list also matters. If you do mechanical service on space satellites, you probably have a lot more time, effort, and money into getting your customers than you would if you were, say, a landscaper, that can just go door to door and get your customer list.

Protecting Your List

The other factor is whether you actually try to protect it. As a general rule, with any kind of trade secret, the more you treat it like a trade secret, the more the law will treat it as one. So, if you let anybody access it, you don’t restrict who sees or uses it, and you don’t try to protect it in court, the law will assume you don’t see it as a trade secret, and it won’t be treated as one.

We can help you protect your trade secrets and customer lists. Call our Fort Lauderdale business lawyers at Sweeney Law P.A. at 954-440-3993 today.




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