Intellectual property (IP) is often a company's most valuable asset. Brand names, logos, and other recognizable identifiers are what allow customers to associate a particular business with a particular product or service. As a business owner, setting out to protect your formulas, inventions, and other ideas can be confusing as there are many types of legal IP protections. Additionally, your application for a patent, copyright, or trademark may be denied for various reasons. The good news is that, even if your applications are not approved, you may still be able to protect your IP as a trade secret. In fact, trade secret status may provide better protection than copyrights, trademarks, or patents could.
The following are some of the main benefits of using trade secret protection:
By definition, a trade secret is something secret—that is, not disclosed to the public. Other IP protections require you to disclose your idea or other work to the world so the public may benefit from it and improve upon it in return for the exclusive use. For example, when Eli Whitney patented the cotton gin in 1794, he had to release his specific designs for the invention. On the other hand, Coca-Cola famously chose to protect its exact flavor recipe as a trade secret and the formula for the distinctive cola is still only known to a few employees. Other famous trade secrets include the search algorithm for Google, the formula to make WD-40, and the recipe for Mrs. Field's cookies.
Protection for abstract ideas
Trade secrets may protect ideas that are not eligible for patents or other protections. Under the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, which California has adopted as law, there are two main requirements for a trade secret:
1. Keeping it unknown and non-ascertainable from the general public has economic value; and
2. Reasonable efforts are made to maintain its secrecy.
Algorithms, source codes, and other abstract ideas can meet these requirements and can, therefore, be protected as trade secrets.
Patents, copyrights, and trademarks all have expiration dates, even if they are relatively far away. Trade secret protection, however, can remain intact as long as the idea or formula remains a secret. The downside is that the protection ends as soon as the secret is disclosed and others may then be able to apply for a patent for the invention if it qualifies.
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The above are only some of the benefits of trade secrets in business. Overall, having a trade secret can give your business a type of notoriety and mystery that may attract customers. Customers may enjoy the idea that they are eating something that comes from a closely guarded secret recipe or that competitors cannot duplicate the product. If you are considering trade secret protection for your business, the guidance of an experienced business attorney can be extremely valuable. Please call the Law Offices of Nate Kelly today to discuss your situation today.
About the Author
Nate Kelly is a California attorney who has been helping businesses and individuals with a variety of legal matters since 2009. In addition to his private practice, he is also co-chair of USC Law Network, which enables him to call upon the legal expertise and acumen of over 30 lawyers in a variety of fields. With offices in both Los Angeles and San Francisco, Mr. Kelly is capable of providing quality legal counsel and representation across the state of California. To schedule an appointment with Mr. Kelly, please call our office today at 415-336-3001 (San Francisco) or 310-228-6215 (Los Angeles). Prospective clients can also send Mr. Kelly an email through our online contact form.