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Understanding trade secret laws

A trade secret includes things such as programs, devices, methods, processes, formulas, patterns and techniques. To meet the definition, you need to use the secret in business and have an economic advantage over your competition because of it.

Courts protect trade secrets in a few ways. If you file a lawsuit for the misuse of your trade secret, then the court can order parties to maintain the secrecy of the trade secret or to pay royalties to the owner of the trade secret. The court may award you reasonable attorney fees, damages and court costs.

Are trade secrets well-protected by law?

Keep in mind that you are only receiving limited protection with trade secret laws. If your secrets are independently discovered by other parties, there is no way for you to fight the use of that trade secret. Trade secrets are protected indefinitely so long as they are not lost or discovered naturally. Unauthorized disclosure is the only time when you can sue for a trade secret's use.

Here's an example. If you have a specific mix of spices you use for a chili sauce and don't release the recipe to anyone, then it's a trade secret so long as it's used for your specific business' products. If an employee steals the recipe and gives it to a competitor, your trade secret rights have been violated and you can file a lawsuit. On the other hand, if someone else figures out the recipe and shares it without stealing it from you, you'd have no way to fight its use by the public.

Source: USPTO, "Trade Secret Policy," accessed June 06, 2018

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