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Acquisition and Control of Confidential Information

Roderick W. MacDonald, Oil and Gas Agreements (1983)

A basic, and as far as I can tell, unwritten, premise upon which at least the industrialized Western civilizations operate is that an idea in a person's brain is not property as such. The premise goes further to the effect that the idea must be converted into some form of property rights before it can be protected against those who would appropriate the idea to their own benefit and use it with no reward to the person who generated the idea in the first place. Thus, if one communicates his or her idea or information to another person without first taking any protective steps, the recipient is free to exploit the idea or information for any benefit the recipient can reap as though the idea or information were the recipient's property.

At least in part because of this premise, there has developed in essentially all industrialized countries and most under-developed countries, a legal system which provides one or more legal devices for converting ideas into protectable property. The generic term for such property in this and a number of other countries is “intellectual property”. In this country, there are principally four legal devices that can be employed to convert ideas or information into protectable property so that, for at least a limited time, the originator of the idea or information can keep all or part of the benefits to be derived from the exploitation of the i