A Trade Secret is, generally, something that is not known to the public that confers some type of economic value to the owner that is protected by reasonable efforts to maintain its confidentiality.
Each state and the federal government has its own law concerning trade secrets. They are normally written using language to make it illegal to misappropriate the trade secret. The owner of the trade secret must take proper precautions. Procedures must be set in place prior to the actual misappropriation to make a valid claim in court.
This is where a savvy legal counsel can come in handy.
Examples of trade secrets include financial, business, scientific, technical, economic, or engineering information, including patterns, plans, compilations, program devices, formulas, designs, prototypes, methods, techniques, processes, procedures, programs, or codes, whether tangible or intangible, and whether or how stored, compiled, or memorialized physically, electronically, graphically, photographically, or in writing.
Patents v. Trade Secrets
In the very beginning of the process, the inventor must determine whether the invention should be kept as a trade secret or disclose it during the patent process. Patents require the inventor to provide a detailed and enabling disclosure about the invention in exchange for the right to exclude others from practicing the invention for a limited period of time. Patents do expire, and when that happens the information contained within is no longer protected. However, unlike trade secrets, patents protect against independent discovery and reverse-engineering. Patent protection also eliminates the need to maintain secrecy. While most anything can be kept secret, there are limitations on what can be protected by a patent. If a given invention is eligible for either patent or trade secret protection, then the decision on how to protect that invention depends on business considerations and weighing of the relative benefits of each type of intellectual property. If the invention can easily be reverse-engineered, the inventor should pursue a patent.