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An economic analysis of tradesecret protection in buyer-seller relationships

Felix Höffler and Stefan Bechthold

No 08-04, WHU Working Paper Series - Economics Group from WHU - Otto Beisheim School of Management

Abstract: The economic analysis of trade-secret protection has traditionally focused on the interests of companies to conceal information from competitors in order to gain a competitive advantage through trade-secret law. This has neglected cases in which the interest is not in concealing information from competitors, but from trading partners. We investigate the social efficiency effects of trade-secret protection in such cases. Many results from economic theory state that asymmetric information (and therefore also its legal protection) is socially undesirable since it leads to inefficient trade. At the same time, protecting private information might create incentives for socially desirable investments. We model this trade-off in a simple buyer-seller model and find that, indeed, trade-secret protection has ambiguous welfare effects. However, a simple, informationally undemanding rule, conditioning the applicability of legal protection on a minimum investment by the informed party to conceal the information, helps to apply trade-secret protection only when it increases welfare. This rationalizes important features of current legal practice.

Keywords: disclosure of information; hold-up problems; trade secrets (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: K2 D82 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2008-06
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Published J Law Econ Organ (2009) 27 (1): 137-158

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