Trade secret law is the oldest form of IP protection. Trade secrets are most often in the form of inventions, know-how, and show-how information that gives you a competitive advantage. Examples of types of trade secrets include formulas, recipes, software, business processes, databases, customer lists and proprietary information. Anything that takes time, money, or effort to develop and that you don’t want your competitors to know.
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.
Here is a list of some of the most well known (and valuable) trade secrets:
- Mrs. Fields Chocolate Chip Cookies (what makes them so yummy?)
- The New York Times Best-Seller list (how do you get on this list?)
- Listerine Mouth Wash (it’s been around for almost 100 years)
- WD-40 (this stuff works on everything)
- Twinkies (we still don’t know how they are made)
- Krispy Kreme Doughnuts (hot off the line and into your hands)
- McDonalds Special Sauce (it’s on the Big Mac)
- Kentucky Fried Chicken (supposedly it has over 30 different seasonings)
- Coca Cola (enjoyed by millions around the world)
- Google (its proprietary search algorithm let’s you find anything)
Trade secrets, unlike patents, can be licensed forever. Even if a trade secret subsequently enters the public domain, royalty payments under trade secret licensing agreements can continue indefinitely.
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Rand Brenner is an IP professional whose passion is helping inventors, startups, and businesses of all sizes use licensing to turn their IP into income-producing products, services, and technologies. His decades of experience run the gamut from medical devices to food technology to consumer products. He’s licensed some of the biggest Hollywood entertainment blockbusters including the Batman Movies (1 and 2), and the number one kid’s action TV show, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Rand speaks about licensing and is a featured speaker at investment conferences, trade shows, colleges and startup events. He’s a published writer with articles appearing in several prestigious trade magazine including The Licensing Journal, Intellectual Property Magazine, and License India. Rand also mentors at the Cal State Fullerton School of Business and Economics and is a judge for their startup business plan competitions.