Trade Secret Basics FAQ

What is a trade secret?

In most states, a trade secret may consist of any formula, pattern, physical device, idea, process or compilation of information that both:

  • provides the owner of the information with a competitive advantage in the marketplace, and
  • is treated in a way that can reasonably be expected to prevent the public or competitors from learning about it, absent improper acquisition or theft.

Some examples of potential trade secrets are:

  • a formula for a sports drink
  • survey methods used by professional pollsters
  • recipes
  • a new invention for which a patent application has not yet been filed
  • marketing strategies
  • manufacturing techniques, and
  • computer algorithms.

Unlike other forms of intellectual property such as patents, copyrights and trademarks, trade secrecy is basically a do-it-yourself form of protection. You don't register with the government to secure your trade secret; you simply keep the information confidential. Trade secret protection lasts for as long as the secret is kept confidential. Once a trade secret is made available to the public, trade secret protection ends.

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