Trade secrets are often overshadowed by copyrights and patents. You always hear about someone copyrighting their next big franchise or patenting the next big invention. You don’t hear about all the trade secrets that are keeping businesses afloat, and that might be for the better. If something is a trade secret, people don’t have something to copy, replicate, and steal. You might not know just how many trade secrets keep the most famous consumer brands afloat.

While we can’t tell you the details of these trade secrets, we can tell you about some of the famous trade secrets whose existence is public knowledge, but not everyone knows the details of.

Famous Trade Secrets

What is a trade secret, though? Copyrights are records of ownership for written and artistic works, trademarks denote ownership of brands, and patents record one’s ownership of an invention. Trade secrets protect possibly the vaguest type of information, which is any confidential information that may be sold or licensed. 

They must be commercially valuable to be worth keeping secret, be known by only a limited group of people, and be hidden from the public through a reasonable amount of effort. Unlike the other three types of intellectual property protection, this could be just about any type of information. Sometimes you can have a trade secret that’s also a copyright or patent. You can’t have trade secrets overlap with trademarks since trademarks are supposed to be public brands.

This vague openness to what trade secrets can be means you should expect a diverse array of famous trade secrets today.

#1. Google’s Search Algorithm

An algorithm is a process or set of rules that a computer or other program uses in its calculations and problem-solving operations. The lines of 1s and 0s that allow us to search the internet is an algorithm, and Google doesn’t want anyone else to use it. With it, Google has become synonymous with the internet itself. 

But what would happen if Google wasn’t the only one with its technology? You’d suddenly have a lot more imitators, and with there being no enforcer of overseas IP law, many businesses in other countries would copy Google. 

While Google is a billion-dollar company with lawyers all around the world, it’s still far safer to file for a trade secret and give their multi-billion dollar algorithm every protection they can.

#2. Coca-Cola’s Recipe

Who doesn’t love a nice cold bottle of Coke on a warm summer day? If it weren’t for the trade secret Coca-Cola has on its recipe, you might be drinking it under a different brand. This recipe is integral to protecting the business’s most successful product. If anyone could have it, why would you get it from Coca-Cola?

The choice to keep it a trade secret rather than solely as a patent, allowed them to keep the ingredients a secret. Even as recently as 2006, having a trade secret kept their biggest competitor honest. An employee and several accomplices stole the current formula to Coca-Cola and tried to sell it to Pepsi. The trade secret made it illegal for Pepsi to buy the formula and reproduce it for themselves, so they reported the thieves instead. If the recipe weren’t an official trade secret, Pepsi may have gotten the Coca-Cola formula.

#3. New York Times’ Bestseller List

Have you ever wondered what makes a book a “New York Times’ Bestseller?” We have, but we can never find out. The method they use – whether it be an algorithm, a strategy, or a random person – is a trade secret. We cannot learn how a book becomes a New York Times’ bestseller. 

While many employees are expected to know how it works, they never answer when asked because the New York Times filed it as a trade secret. If anyone did, they would be in violation of the law and vulnerable to being sued.

#4. McDonald’s Big Mac Special Sauce

While anyone who asks can learn that Burger King puts mayonnaise on their Whoppers, no one knows what’s in the special sauce that goes on Big Macs. Assuming you’re not a vegetarian, you’ve likely had a Big Mac once in your life and tasted this unique sauce that goes on all Big Macs.

The special sauce is what sets it apart from other supersized sandwiches. It was such a well-kept secret that in the 1980s, the recipe was lost during a company’s reformulation while the Big Mac was on hiatus. It wasn’t until an executive wanted to bring the product back that they realized what they lost. 

Since we have Big Macs, we know they found the formula, but that’s how hidden these trade secrets are. They’re so secret that it’s possible for a company with thousands of employees to lose it.

#5. Krispy Kreme Doughnuts

Are Krispy Kreme’s doughnuts great? Of course! But are they incredibly different from other donuts? Not really.

Why the secrecy around its recipe? Sometimes you file something as a trade secret believing that it’s important to your success. Then eventually you find out that this isn’t the case at all, but you never stop keeping the secret because… why tell anyone?

The secret behind the taste of Krispy Kreme’s doughnuts remains a mystery, but also as a reminder that not every business needs a trade secret to succeed.

Contact ETB for Help Protecting Your Intellectual Property

These famous trade secrets both illuminate the importance of protecting your intellectual property. If you’re not sure what would be the best option for protecting your IP, our experienced attorneys can help.

We have experience handling all types of intellectual property. If you’re looking for help with your current or future IP, contact us today.

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We provide complete intellectual property representation to business owners, inventors and artists in all matters related to the establishment and protection of domestic and international patents, trademarks and copyrights. Attorneys at our firm also serve as in-house IP counsel for companies whose needs do not call for a full-time internal position.

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