• Friday, March 01, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

‘Protecting trade secrets is essential to company’s continued success’

20230421_123638_0000

In this interview, Kojo Brifo, managing director, Freddy Hirsch Nigeria and West Africa, and Uduak Koka, an Intellectual Property expert and managing director, Baesault, an intellectual property consultancy, spoke on trade secrets in the food and beverage industry. They also stressed the importance of Intellectual property (IP). ABUBAKAR IBRAHIM brings the excerpts:

Can you give us an overview of trade secrets, intellectual property (IP), and how they connect to the food and beverage industry?

Brifo – The food and beverage industry is a highly competitive and dynamic industry that thrives on innovation and creativity. Globally, companies in this sector are constantly looking for ways to gain a competitive advantage, whether it is through new product development, marketing strategies, or operational efficiencies. One way that companies can gain an edge in this industry is by protecting their trade secrets.

Trade secrets are confidential information that is critical to the success of a business, such as customer lists, product formulations, manufacturing processes, and marketing strategies. Unlike patents or trademarks, which must be published as a trade-off for the monopoly of protection, trade secrets are kept confidential and can remain so indefinitely. In the food and beverage industry, trade secrets are particularly important, as the success of a company often depends on its ability to create unique and innovative products.

Companies invest significant time and resources in research and development to create new recipes, formulations, and production processes. These trade secrets give companies a competitive advantage by allowing them to create products that are not easily replicated by competitors.

Can you explain trade secrets in more detail?

Brifo – The food and beverage industry is a competitive and dynamic sector that relies heavily on innovation and creativity to gain a competitive edge. Trade secrets, which are confidential information critical to a business’s success, play a crucial role in this industry. Examples of trade secrets in the food and beverage industry include customer lists, product formulations, manufacturing processes, and marketing strategies. Unlike patents or trademarks, trade secrets are not published and can remain confidential indefinitely.

This confidentiality is particularly important in the food and beverage industry, where companies invest significant resources in research and development to create unique and innovative products. By keeping their trade secrets confidential, companies can maintain a competitive advantage over their competitors.

What are some types of trade secrets?

Brifo – Trade secrets in the food and beverage industry encompass a wide range of confidential information critical to a company’s success, including product formulations, manufacturing processes, machinery, and recipes. Companies invest significant resources in developing efficient and effective production processes that give them a competitive advantage in terms of quality, cost, and speed.

Similarly, unique recipes provide a company with a unique product that cannot be easily imitated, serving as a competitive edge over competitors. Customer and supplier lists, price agreements, distribution methods, contractual conditions, and executed contracts are also important trade secrets in the business information category that can give a company a competitive advantage by establishing and maintaining important relationships and ensuring efficient operations and effective management.

Protecting these trade secrets from unauthorised access is essential to a company’s continued success, and robust policies and procedures such as confidentiality agreements, access controls, and security measures should be put in place to achieve this goal.

Read also: Companies shift to generalist workforce as inflation bites

Besides customer loyalty and brand recognition, what are the impacts of trade secrets that may be less obvious?

Brifo – The food and beverage industry is a competitive and dynamic sector that relies heavily on innovation and creativity to gain a competitive edge. Trade secrets, which are confidential information critical to a business’s success, play a crucial role in this industry.

Examples of trade secrets in the food and beverage industry include customer lists, product formulations, manufacturing processes, and marketing strategies. Unlike patents or trademarks, trade secrets are not published and can remain confidential indefinitely. This confidentiality is particularly important in the food and beverage industry, where companies invest significant resources in research and development to create unique and innovative products. By keeping their trade secrets confidential, companies can maintain a competitive advantage over their competitors.

What are some examples of companies that have managed trade secrets well?

Brifo – The most widely known example is probably Coca-Cola, as it has successfully guarded its formula for over 130 years. A less spoken about, but also popular brand is the soy sauce manufacturer Kikkoman which has held its trade secrets for about 300 years. There’s also Lindt, the Swiss chocolatier which has been in operation since 1845, is present in over 100 countries and has managed to keep their recipes secret – they report keeping one or more of their recipes in a vault in Switzerland.

What does intellectual property mean to Freddy Hirsch Nigeria and what role has trade secrets played in its success?

Brifo – Freddy Hirsch Nigeria is a flavour and seasoning manufacturer in Nigeria supplying FMCG. Freddy Hirsch works with multiple customers to deliver a unique and innovative flavour to them. Our proprietary and confidential information are key assets This includes our flavour formulas and application technologies. As a flavour supplier to many customers, we make sure that each customer’s trade secret, manufacturing process, information, and sources of raw materials are not disclosed to any third party or customer competitors.

For a company like Freddy Hirsch Nigeria, intellectual property is critical to its success so we hold various patents, which give us a competitive advantage in the market. We also have trademarks on the brand name and logo, which helps to distinguish our products from those of our competitors.

By keeping these trade secrets secret, we can prevent competitors from replicating our products or processes, which helps us to maintain a dominant market position.

How does Freddy Hirsch Nigeria ensure that its trade secrets are protected?

Brifo – We are committed to ensuring the confidentiality of its client’s information, and collecting any other information in an ethical and legal manner. To achieve this, the company ensures that its employees sign non-disclosure agreements which state that any technologies developed while in the company’s employment are the property of the company.

The company also facilitates IP and trade secret courses during new employee inductions and has periodic reviews to reinforce and update new employees on trade secrets protection. Freddy Hirsch Nigeria also has a trade secret policy that advises employees on how to identify, manage, and protect trade secrets.

Employees are advised not to leave confidential information on computers, tablets, flash drives, or mobile phones unattended, and access to software and confidential information is restricted and controlled to prevent unauthorised access.

Do you see changes on the horizon for how we think about protecting IP or trade secrets especifically in the food and beverage industry?

Koka – The food and beverage industry, like any other industry, is constantly evolving, and as such, there will be changes in the way that companies protect their intellectual property (IP) or trade secrets.

One trend that has emerged in recent years is the increasing use of technology to protect trade secrets across various industries and the food and beverage industry is no exception.

For example, companies are starting to use blockchain technology to securely store and track information about their products, access records, and supply chain, thereby reducing the risk of theft or unauthorised access to trade secrets.

Another trend is the growing importance of protecting data and information in the food and beverage industry. With the rise of digital technologies and the increasing amount of data generated by food and beverage companies, there is a need to protect sensitive information from theft or misuse.