Service For You, Your Business,
And Your Life, At Your Level

Guidance from an accessible attorney who is ready to meet your needs.

Trade secrets and patents – what’s the difference?

On Behalf of | Apr 17, 2023 | Intellectual Property |

You might have a great idea for a product that’s so innovative that there’s little to no competition on the market. But before you can start selling or even producing the product, you must make an important consideration: should you file a patent for it or keep it as a trade secret?

It might sound like you can interchangeably use the terms patent and trade secret, but they’re two very different things when discussing intellectual property rights. So, what’s the difference between the two?

What is a patent?

A patent is an exclusivity right granted for a particular invention or method. It allows patent owners to permit others to use the invention under strict terms. Patents also prohibit commercial manufacturing, sale, distribution, and even importation of the invention without the expressed consent of the inventor. Famous examples of patents include the ones awarded to Thomas Edison for the lightbulb, Alexander Graham Bell for the telephone, and Jaap Haartsen for Bluetooth technology.

What is a trade secret?

A trade secret refers to any invention or method that gives the owner a competitive edge. A trade secret must be commercially valuable because it’s not widely known information, and the business owning the secret takes steps to ensure the information’s confidentiality. Some of the more famous examples of trade secrets include Coca-Cola’s recipe, KFC’s 11 secret herbs and spices, and the formulation of WD-40.

Should I patent my invention or keep it a trade secret?

It depends on what you’re looking for in protecting your intellectual property. Here are some considerations for you to make:

  • Length of time: Patents generally last up to 20 years, during which your competitors can’t reproduce your invention. But with trade secrets, the protection over your invention could potentially last indefinitely for as long as it remains a secret – the tradeoff being that you’ll have to protect the secret for as long as you can.
  • Costs: Filing a patent involves registration costs while keeping a trade secret has no such fees – although you should be prepared to spend on measures to keep the information confidential, such as locking it up behind a vault.
  • Immediacy: With trade secrets, you can immediately secure the information using whatever means. On the other hand, the patent application process can take an average of two years –your competitors could risk copying your idea during this period.

Patents work differently from trade secrets and vice-versa. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, depending on how much you want to commercialize your invention or how much you’re willing to cede IP rights over your creation in a deal. Because this is a complicated matter, don’t be afraid to seek legal advice for your product.