The Commission said the study on the "economic and legal aspects linked with the use, misappropriation and litigation on confidential business information and trade secrets" would involve a survey of the way companies manage confidential information and trade secrets.
"The data to be collected from companies from all sizes and locations within the European Union will help the European Commission to better evaluate whether there is a need to provide companies, and in particular SMEs, with better means of redress against the economic harm resulting from dishonest appropriation of confidential business information," the Commission said.
The survey is open until 3 December 2012.
The World Intellectual Property Organisation refers to trade secrets as "any confidential business information which provides an enterprise a competitive edge." Trade secrets can convey technical know-how and commercially sensitive information, and are often only established as a result of a considerable investment of time, effort and money. Although trade secrets are not considered to be a form of intellectual property, they are closely related and may be subject in some circumstances to intellectual property rights.
In a report commissioned by the European Commission into trade secrets published in January, trade secrets law was described as providing "the means to exclude third parties from misusing valuable knowledge and thus increases competitive advantage and the expected returns of innovation."
Confidential information can relate to any subject matter and be stored in any form, whether hard copy, electronic or otherwise.