Suppose I am contracting out some research / experiments to improve upon a process my company already practices. Obviously I need to first tell him what we practice under status quo.
Now I want to restrict the contractor from disclosing any of this to third parties. On the other hand, a lot of stuff we practice is not exactly patentable since there are old papers and expired patents out there describing some of these steps and innovations. i.e. If some third party did indeed independently come up with the same combination of process steps there's not much we could do about it.
But then again there's a ton of patents and articles and the value lies in knowing which ones to combine to produce a commercially viable product.
Can I still structure the agreement such that I prohibit the contractor from disclosing what we practice? Although he could argue that all of it is described somewhere in the open literature?
As an extension, if a third party hypothetically started practicing what we do on the basis of stuff disclosed by the contractor, we'd have no patent to sue them for. But could we still do anything about it?
Just want to get opinions on what the body of law is (or precedents) that I ought to be reading to understand such situations.