Which Approach to Use: Trade Secrets or Patents?
Protecting your company’s intellectual property is crucial, but many businesses aren’t sure exactly how to accomplish this task. Trade secrets and patents are two of the most common ways to safeguard intellectual property; however, it’s important to choose the right option for your business’s needs. In this article, we’ll discuss the merits of both patents and trade secrets and help you understand which one might be the best choice for your formula, process, or product.
Benefits of Trade Secrets
Many companies use trade secrets to protect sensitive intellectual property. A few famous examples include KFC’s secret blend of herbs and spices, Coca-Cola’s recipe, and the mysterious algorithm Google uses to generate search rankings. One advantage of trade secrets is the simplicity of the process—the designation is effective immediately, while the patent application process can take years. Another advantage is the low cost—there are no legal fees or filing fees. Once intellectual property is designated a trade secret, that status lasts indefinitely; patents, on the other hand, expire after a certain period of time. If KFC had chosen to patent its secret spice recipe, that information would have been available to the public decades ago. Competitors would have been free to create their own generic copy of the KFC recipe that would be identical to the original blend.
Benefits of Patents
While trade secrets offer many advantages, they’re not always the best way to protect your intellectual property. Patents may cost more and take longer to secure, but they offer a stronger level of protection that trade secrets can’t provide. Patents offer a company exclusive use of a product, process, or formula for the lifespan of the patent, which can last up to 20 years. In contrast, trade secrets only protect companies against improper disclosure of their intellectual property. They don’t offer any protection against competitors’ attempts to reverse-engineer a formula or process in order to develop their own version of it. A competitor could even go so far as to reverse-engineer your invention and then file a patent application for it, which would then give them exclusive use to the invention you originally developed.
It’s clear that both trade secrets and patents offer many protections, but the right choice for you will depend on the nature of your invention and your business’s needs. If you decide to apply for a patent, don’t try to navigate the application process alone. Working with a patent filing company can help make the process go more smoothly and avoid common pitfalls that might cause your application to be rejected.