France: Alerte : Loi sur la protection des secrets d'affaires

Last Updated: 9 August 2018
Article by Anne-Laure-Hélène des Ylouses

Click here for the English version

Nous nous permettons d'attirer votre attention sur la promulgation de la loi n°2018-670 du 30 juillet 2018 relative à la protection du secret des affaires (ci-après la « Loi »).

Déclaréeconforme à la Constitution, le  26 juillet 2018, par le Conseil Constitutionnel, la Loi transpose en droit français la Directive n°2016/943 du Parlement européen et du Conseil du 8 juin 2016 sur la protection des savoir-faire et des informations commerciales non divulgués (secrets d'affaires) contre l'obtention, l'utilisation et la divulgation illicites (ci-après la « Directive »).

La Loi complète le Livre 1er du Code de commerce par un Titre V aménageant un régime spécifique de la protection du secret des affaires, en précisant la définition de ce qu'est un secret d'affaires, ses détenteurs légitimes, les cas dans lesquels l'obtention, l'utilisation et la divulgation de secrets d'affaires sont illicites, les exceptions à la protection du secret des affaires, ainsi que les mesures pour prévenir et faire cesser une atteinte au secret des affaires (y compris les sanctions en cas de procédure abusive), les modalités de réparation des atteintes au secret des affaires et des mesures générales de protection du secret des affaires devant les juridictions civiles ou commerciales.

S'agissant d'abord de la définition du secret des affaires, celle-ci reprend en substance les trois critères, en les détaillant,  prévus par l'article 2 de la Directive, directement inspirés de l'Accord sur les aspects des droits de propriété intellectuelle qui touchent au commerce (ADPIC) : une information qui n'est en elle-même ou dans la configuration et l'assemblage exacts de ses éléments, pas généralement connue ou aisément accessible pour les personnes familières de ce type d'informations en raison de leur secteur d'activité, (ii) ayant une valeur commerciale, effective ou potentielle, en raison de son caractère secret et (iii) qui fait l'objet de la part de son détenteur légitime de mesures de protection raisonnables, compte tenu des circonstances, pour en conserver le caractère secret (nouvel article L. 151-1 du Code de commerce).

Dès lors qu'une information présente l'ensemble de ces caractéristiques, elle peut faire l'objet d'une protection dans les conditions prévues par le nouveau Titre V du Livre 1er du Code de commerce, indépendamment du support sur lequel elle peut être incorporée.

Sommairement, en vertu du nouvel article L. 151-4, l'obtention d'une telle information sera illicite lorsqu'elle intervient sans le consentement de son détenteur légitime et en violation d'un accès non autorisé ou du fait d'un comportement déloyal, l'article L. 151-5 précisant les conditions dans lesquelles l'utilisation et la divulgation d'une telle information est illicite.

Toutefois, le texte prévoit un certain nombre d'exceptions, comme quand un tel comportement est légalement requis ou autorisé (notamment dans le cadre de procédures judiciaires ou administratives), qu'il est intervenu pour exercer le droit à la liberté d'expression, pour révéler une activité illégale ou un « comportement répréhensible » (notamment dans la situation de « lanceurs d'alertes ») ou pour la protection d'un intérêt légitime (à noter également certaines exceptions dans le cadre des relations de travail).

S'agissant des sanctions en cas de comportement répréhensible, la juridiction saisie peut, sans préjudice de l'octroi de dommages et intérêts (dont les modalités de calcul sont précisées par la Loi), prescrire, y compris sous astreinte, toute mesure proportionnée de nature à empêcher ou à faire cesser une atteinte à un secret des affaires, ordonner le rappel des circuits commerciaux de tout produit résultant d'une telle atteinte (ou, à la demande de l'auteur de l'atteinte et dans certaines circonstances, y substituer le versement d'une indemnité à la partie lésée), ordonner des mesures provisoires et conservatoires et toute mesure de publicité.

Cela étant, toute personne physique ou morale qui agit de manière dilatoire ou abusive peut être condamnée au paiement d'une amende civile dont le montant ne peut être supérieur à 20% du montant de la demande de dommages et intérêts (ou 60.000€ en l'absence de demande de dommages et intérêts) et au paiement de dommages et intérêts à la partie victime de la procédure dilatoire ou abusive.

Enfin, la Loi prévoit les conditions dans lesquelles un secret d'affaires peut faire l'objet d'une protection dans le cadre de procédures judiciaires devant les juridictions civiles ou commerciales

News Flash: French law for the protection of trade secrets

We would like to draw your attention to the enactment of the law No 2018-670 of 30 July 2018 for the protection of trade secrets (hereinafter the "Law").

Declared in conformity to the Constitution, on 26th July 2018, by the Constitutional Council, the purpose of the Law is to transpose Directive no. 2016/943 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 8 June 2016 on the protection of know-how and business information (trade secrets) against their unlawful acquisition, use and disclosure (hereinafter the "Directive").

The Law adds a Title V to Book 1 of the French Commercial Code and creates a specific regime for the protection of trade secrets. It sets out:

  • definitions for trade secrets and lawful holders;
  • cases in which the acquisition, use, and disclosure of trade secrets are unlawful;
  • exceptions to the protection of trade secrets;
  • measures to prevent and put a stop to the misappropriation of trade secrets (including penalties in the event of proceedings initiated abusively);
  • measures to remedy the misappropriation of trade secrets; and
  • general measures for the protection of trade secrets before the civil and commercial courts.

For the definition of trade secrets, the Law employs, in essence (but with more details), the three criteria set out in Article 2 of the Directive, which were directly inspired by the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS): (i) information which is – by itself or in the precise configuration and assembly of its components – not generally known or readily accessible for people familiar with this kind of information due to their business activities, (ii) having – actual or potential – commercial value because it is secret and (iii) which has been subject to reasonable (in view of circumstances) measures of protection by its legitimate holder to keep it secret (new Article L. 151-1 of the Commercial Code).

Where information meets these criteria, it can be protected under the conditions set out by the new Title V of Book 1 of the Commercial Code, no matter what the media used to hold it.

By virtue of the new Article L. 151-4, the acquisition of such information will be unlawful where it occurs without the consent of its legitimate owner and in violation of a prohibition on access or through unfair behavior. Article L. 151-5 sets out the conditions under which the use and disclosure of such information is unlawful.

However, the Law provides for a certain number of exceptions, such as where such acts are legally required or authorized (in particular in the framework of legal or administrative proceedings), or where they occur to exercise the right to freedom of expression, or reveal illegal activity or "reprehensible behavior" (in particular in the case of "whistleblowers") or for the protection of a legitimate interest (certain exceptions should be noted in the context of labor relations).

As concerns sanctions - without prejudice to the awarding of damages (the methods for calculation of which are set out in the Law) - the court hearing a case can order, including under penalty:

  • any proportionate measure to prevent or put an end to the misappropriation of a trade secret;
  • the removal from commercial channels of any product resulting from such misappropriation (or, at the request of the person who committed the misappropriation and under certain circumstances, replace this with the payment of compensation to the victim);
  • provisional and protective measures and all publication measures.

This being stated, any individual or entity who employs dilatory tactics or initiates proceedings abusively can be ordered to pay a civil fine in an amount not to exceed 20% of the damages claimed (or 60.000€ in the absence of a claim for damages) and damages to the victim of the dilatory tactics or proceedings initiated abusively.

In addition, the Law sets out the conditions for the protection of trade secrets in the framework of legal proceedings before the civil or commercial courts.

Anne-Laure-Hélène des Ylouses has published a study on Le secret des affaires et le droit des ententes anticoncurrentielles. This study discusses the substantive and procedural antitrust law rules applicable to trade secrets

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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