There are many different ways you can protect your intellectual property (IP), but only one can last forever. Copyrights, trademarks, and patents are all temporary forms of intellectual property protection that expire and/or need to be renewed. Only trade secrets can last forever, but not all forms of IP can utilize trade secret protections. 

If you’re unsure if the kind of IP you have can use trade secret protections, the intellectual property attorneys at Emerson Thomson Bennett can explain. If you try to utilize trade secret protection on IP that cannot be considered a trade secret, you’ll find yourself with no protection whatsoever. If this happens and your IP is infringed upon, you likely have little ground to fight back. 

What are Trade Secrets?

Multiple different types of IP can help a business get ahead of its competitors. A trade secret doesn’t have to be a physical object itself or a design of a physical object. It just has to be something that would immediately benefit your competitors if they were also able to utilize it. These types of intellectual property include:

1. Formulas

A formula would be any list of ingredients or mathematical equations that can produce a substance or cause a process to occur. An example could be a cleaning solution or the Pythagorean theorem. While the latter is now widely known, when it was first conceived, it would have counted as a trade secret formula.

2. Process

Processes can be a series of steps and/or actions that can consistently provide a service, create a device, or complete some type of activity. An example of this would be the assembly line process created by Henry Ford and used by Ford Automotive to manufacture its cars. It could have been a trade secret, but by patenting it instead, Ford was able to license out the process to other businesses for several decades before the patent expired.

3. Design/Device/Instrument

A design can be a trade secret that you don’t file with the United States Patent & Trademark Office but instead keep private so you can use it yourself. The design can help your business produce a product or provide a service.

4. Compilation of information

A compilation of information can be a combination of all of the above. Sometimes, just one item/device/instrument cannot be used to push your business forward, but multiple things working together. 

In this case, all of the items can be a part of your trade secret or just the product, service, device, or substance they produce when working in unison. Trade secrets don’t have to be based around one tangible thing but multiple items.

Alternatives to Trade Secret Protections

You do not have to file trade secrets with the government for something to be considered a trade secret or even to have the protections that come with it. Having a trade secret also doesn’t mean that you can’t have other forms of IP protection. There are IP protections that are trade secrets but also have copyrights, patents, or trademarks. 

In these cases, you run the risk of losing the trade secret status because it will be publicly available, but being publicly available and widely known is not the same thing. USPTO does not advertise when and who files copyrights, patents, or trademarks. They simply allow others to look them up. Because of this, it is a risk to file the added protection as the IP must be kept confidential to be considered a trade secret.

Contact the Trade Secret Attorneys at Emerson Thomson Bennett

Trade secret protections are powerful and offer you the ability to protect your IP for as long as you can keep it confidential. While they have no time limit, they do require you to maintain a significant amount of secrecy and can only be applied to certain types of IP. 

If you try to use trade secret protections on IP that can’t be considered a trade secret, you can unintentionally leave your IP unprotected. Contact the intellectual property attorneys at Emerson Thomson Bennett for more information about what types of protection your IP can use. We can help you file and maintain the protection you need.



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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