Trade secrets examples include the types of confidential information that is protected as a trade secret by intellectual property (IP) law. A trade secret must be unknown to the public and provide financial value for the business. Methods, techniques, formulas, processes, and information can all be protected as trade secrets.

Protection for Trade Secrets

The Uniform Trade Secrets Act indicates that a trade secret provides economic value because it is not publicly known. For this reason, trade secrets are not registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

For information to qualify as a trade secret, the owner of the information must attempt to keep it confidential. This is in contrast to patents and trademarks, forms of protected IP that are obvious to the public. Trade secrets have significant value, often comprising a large portion of the business's assets.

Many businesses rely on trade secrets for their operations. If this describes your business, an intellectual property attorney can help explain your rights when it comes to protecting trade secrets. He or she can also advocate on your behalf if you believe your IP is being infringed upon.

Although trade secrets can sometimes be patented, to do so means that they are no longer secret since patent applications require public disclosure about the invention.

The means for protecting a trade secret include non-disclosure agreements, contracts, non-compete forms, and other legal agreements. They require those with access to the information to keep it secret, particularly from competitors. If trade secret protection is meant to expire, this must be explicitly stated in the agreement. If the trade secret becomes public, it can no longer be protected legally.

Examples of Intellectual Property

Some types of information that may qualify for trade secret protection include:

  • Computer programs and scripts.
  • Formulas for cleaning and beauty products.
  • Manufacturing methods.
  • Food recipes.
  • Methods for processing raw materials.
  • New plant hybrids.
  • Customer lists.
  • Business plans.
  • Industry forecasts.
  • Marketing plans and analyses.
  • Research and development data.
  • Information about business relationships.
  • Pricing and profit margin information.
  • Product information.
  • Business manuals.
  • Databases.
  • Maps.
  • Blueprints.
  • Designs.

Examples include the formula for WD-40 and the recipe for Pepsi. Mrs. Fields Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe is a trade secret; although many intrepid bakers have tried to reverse engineer the cookie, none have come close to replicating its exact taste and texture.

Another trade secret is the algorithm the New York Times uses to create its incredibly influential best-seller list. Although they acknowledge that it involves gathering sales data from a range of independent and chain bookstores and wholesalers, the exact methodology is protected to prevent publishers from manipulating the data to land their books on the list.

The ingredients in Listerine are another common trade secret example, often used to demonstrate the concept in law school. In 1880, the secret formula was licensed to a pharmaceutical company that paid more than $22 million for the license over 70 years. During that time, the secret ingredients were at some point revealed. Although the pharma company (now Pfizer) sued for return of the royalties, the court ruled that the discontinuation of payments if the secret was no longer confidential was not stipulated in the license agreement.

Although Twinkies were first available in the U.S. in 1930, the exact ingredients in the treat are a trade secret that has never been revealed. Another sweet trade secret? The recipe for Krispy Kreme donuts, which has been under lock and key at the company's headquarters for the past 70-plus years.

The blend of 11 herbs and spices used in Kentucky Fried Chicken has been one of the world's most famous trade secrets for decades. When Colonel Sanders first opened the restaurant, he didn't even write down the recipe. When he eventually did, it was placed in a safe in Kentucky where it remains. Only a few trusted employees who are legally bound by confidentiality agreements can access the safe. The blending is done by two separate companies and standardized by computer to further protect against a leak.

Coke's recipe is another widely-known American trade secret. Coca-Cola chose not to patent the recipe for its blockbuster beverage to avoid disclosing the ingredients.

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