Many businesses prefer to protect their Intellectual Property by keeping them as trade secrets. Trade secrets are generally protected through employee agreements and confidentiality obligations. A company that develops a process or a formula (for example, the recipes for Coca Cola or Kentucky Fried Chicken) keeps it from being used by competitors by obtaining agreements from employees and vendors not to disclose the process or formula to persons outside those having an actual “need to know” within the company. Trade secrets require no filing with a state or federal government agency. Because no filing is required, it does not expire; thus, a trade secret may last forever (indeed the formula for Coca-Cola has been kept secret for a century).
The disadvantage of the law of trade secrets is that it does not prohibit someone from “reverse engineering” a product, provided they did not obtain information about the product from someone contractually obligated not to disclose the secret. For example, the law of trade secret would not prohibit a competitor from discovering the Kentucky Fried Chicken recipe through trial and error (though, no one yet has). Other Intellectual Property tools, however, may prevent a competitor from unfairly using a reverse engineered trade secret. Hankin Patent Law will advise whether protecting your Intellectual Property by relying on trade secret law is recommended and/or advantageous for you and your business.
If you have developed a process or formula that you want to keep others from using, you need to decide whether to protect that development through the use of a patent or as a trade secret. At Hankin Patent Law, we have extensive experience in trade secret and patent issues and can advise you regarding the best approach to protecting your inventions and trade secrets.
To arrange for an Intellectual Property audit or to learn more about how you can protect your Intellectual Property by keeping them as trade secrets, contact Hankin Patent Law.