Office of Technology Transfer
Ideas Reaching the World

Trade Secrets

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A trade secret is another type of intellectual property that is in the form of a formula, practice, process, design, instrument, pattern, commercial method, or compilation of information not generally known or reasonably ascertainable by others outside of the trade secret holder.  A business can obtain an economic advantage over competitors by having a trade secret, but must ensure that it does not become public, which can eliminate its economic value in the marketplace.  

If a trade secret is acquired by improper means (wider concept than "illegal means" but inclusive of such means), then the secret is generally deemed to have been misappropriated or considered illegal use of the confidential information.  This is like the corporate espionage movies where someone is rummaging through the trash of a competitor to try and find proprietary information on that company.  

The Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 (DTSA) was signed into law on May 11, 2016 and allows an owner of a trade secret to sue in federal court when its trade secrets have been misappropriated, such as an unauthorized use of or illegal stealing, copying, or receiving of that trade secret.  

Some famous Trade Secrets:

  • Coca-Cola
  • Kentucky Fried Chicken
  • McDonald's Special Sauce
  • Krispy Kreme Donuts
  • Twinkies
  • Listerine Mouthwash
  • And for you baseball fans, Lena Blackburn's Baseball Mudd.