Yahoo.com is reporting that KFC, owner of one of the most famous corporate trade secrets out there–the secret handwritten recipe of 11 herbs and spices which exists on a yellowing sheet of paper signed by Colonel Sanders himself–is moving the recipe in order to revamp security. You can find the article here.
It’s always interesting to note the extremes that famous trade secret owners sometimes need to take to ensure that their trade secret remains secret. Similar to the secret recipe for Coca-Cola, only two company executives at a time know the 11 herbs and spices and their precise measurements.
“So important is the 68-year-old concoction that coats the chain’s Original Recipe chicken that only two company executives at any time have access to it. The company refuses to release their name or title, and it uses multiple suppliers who produce and blend the ingredients but know only a part of the entire contents. . . .”
“For more than 20 years, the recipe has been tucked away in a filing cabinet equipped with two combination locks in company headquarters. To reach the cabinet, the keepers of the recipe would first open up a vault and unlock three locks on a door that stood in front of the cabinet.
Vials of the herbs and spices are also stored in the secret filing cabinet.
“The smell is overwhelming when you open it,” said one of two keepers of the recipe in an interview at company headquarters.
The biggest prize, though, is a single sheet of notebook paper, yellowed by age, that lays out the entire formula — including exact amounts for each ingredient — written in pencil and signed by Sanders.”
While the majority of the readers of this blog do not have to worry about such high security, it is always interesting to note when the protection of these major trade secrets arises in the news.
According to Forbes.com, a federal court has upheld the conviction and eight year prison sentence of Joya Williams, the former secretary at Coca-Cola company who was found guilty of conspiring to sell the trade secrets of Coca-Cola to its competitor. The convictions of Williams’ co-defendants, Edmund Duhaney and Ibrahim Dimson, were also upheld.
This trade secrets case related to the formulas for new drinks being designed by the Coca-Cola company. This type of theft would have very little chance of happening with the actual formula for Coca-Cola, the so-called “Merchandise 7X”, because of the precautions the Coca-Cola company takes to protect that recipe. A secretary like Williams would never be allowed access to Merchandise 7X.
You could learn a lot about protection of trade secrets from the Coca-Cola company. When they want to protect something, they make sure it’s protected. The protection of Merchandise 7X, the “secret ingredient” in Coca-Cola, gives you an idea of the levels to which companies can go in protecting trade secrets. Merchandise 7X has remained a secret since its invention in 1886. It’s been said that only a few employees know the full recipe at any one time, and those employees are not allowed to fly on the same plane and cannot be left alone with strangers while they are together.
I certainly am not suggesting that your company has to go to such extremes, but I think this example gives you an idea of the breadth of strategies available for trade secrets protection beyond minimums such as non-disclosure agreements, confidentiality agreements and employee exit interviews.