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What does the term trade secret really mean?

The intellectual property arena comes with a great deal of terminology such as patents, copyrights, infringement and yes, trade secrets. This can be confusing to someone just getting started. The term "trade secrets" in particular has a lot of room for self-interpretation. It is important for those interested in protecting their intellectual property in California to find out just what this term means.

By their nature, trade secrets exist under a broad definition umbrella. Perhaps the best way to look at it is as any "confidential business information which provides a competitive edge." Just about anything could be considered a trade secret if it brings you value because not many other people know about it. Examples of trade secrets include the following.

  • Recipes, ingredient lists or formulas
  • Software programs
  • Business plans and methods
  • Blue prints and drawings
  • Manufacturing processes and techniques
  • Databases
  • Marketing and advertising strategies
  • Designs and patterns

If you have information you would like to protect as a trade secret, you might be pleased to know that it is not difficult. Taking measures on your own to keep the information a secret is your first step. This means you should not tell anyone about your secret or share any documentation about the secret.

You can also find other ways to protect your trade secrets by speaking with an attorney. This step will provide you with options that can increase your security. These include registering trademarks and obtaining patents for your goods and information. An experienced lawyer can also help you take legal action if you believe other parties have stolen your trade secrets.

Source: World Intellectual Property Organization, "What is a Trade Secret?," accessed Aug. 16, 2017

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