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HB 459: Will Your Trade Secrets Become Public Records?

by | Mar 9, 2018 | Media Law, Public Records

If you do business with the state of Florida, you may no longer be able to rely on a trade secrets exemption to hide related contracts or financial data from the public.

Currently, certain public records can be kept private if they contain trade secrets. In 2016, the House Speaker sought to make public the terms of rapper Pitbull’s spokesman contract with the public agency Visit Florida.

Pitbull argued that the trade secret exemption protected the pricing terms in the contract. Then state legislators passed new regulations that expanded the trade secret exemption to specifically include financial information.

But many believed that this resulted in a loss of transparency in local and state government. After all, doesn’t the public deserve to understand how and where their tax dollars are being spent?

House Bill 459 seeks to get rid of the trade secret exemption for companies working with state or local agencies, including:

  • certain condemning governmental agencies,
  • local governments,
  • electrical utilities,
  • telecommunications companies,
  • economic development agencies,
  • county tourism agencies,
  • Florida Public Service Commission,
  • Department of Environmental Protection,
  • Department of the Lottery,
  • Florida Development Finance Corporation,
  • Department of Health,
  • and the Office of the Attorney General.

The bill also repeals Section 815.045 of the Florida Statutes, a public necessity statement for a trade secret exemption.

Of course, protection for trade secrets exists for a reason. It helps to protect companies’ valuable intellectual property from competitors.

For example, a company bidding for a project may be reluctant to share technical concepts or ideas, and that would inhibit the government’s ability to evaluate proposals. Some companies may avoid bidding altogether.

Under the new law, companies could still seek a trade secrets exemption for a specific statutory reason if they seek the court’s permission first.

If passed, House Bill 459 could provide a better balance between the protection for companies’ intellectual property and the right of the public to information and an open, transparent government.

Stay tuned to the Florida Legislature to see what the future of trade secret protection will be.

Marks Gray and I represent clients regarding trade secrets and confidential information. If you have questions or issues on these topics, please contact me at 904-807-2179 or [email protected].


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