The Ohio State Universities | University Libraries | Resource Guides

Finding Intellectual Property Publications

Trade Secrets

The final form of intellectual property is a trade secret.  A trade secret can consist of any processes, methods, equipment, technical information, etc. which gives a company a competitive edge.  Coca-Cola has protected its secret formula for over 100 years via trade secret.  Three key factors define a trade secret:   

  • is not common knowledge to competitors
  • gives an economic edge to its holder
  • the holder makes a reasonable effort to maintain the secrecy


Trade secrets are protected under state law, not federal.  The amount of protection granted by declaring something a trade secret varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.  Unlike patents or trademarks/service marks, it is protected only so long as it is secret.  As long as the holder keeps it confidential, there is no statutory limit to how long a trade secret can be held.  Two or more companies can potentially have the same trade secret, if developed independently and kept confidential from each other and other competitors.  The laws governing trade secrets are mainly aimed at prohibiting competitors from illegally gaining access to the trade secret through theft, industrial espionage, etc.  Competitors are not enjoined from reverse engineering, and or independently developing a process, etc. that matches a trade secret.

Further Reading

Protection of Trade Secrets:  Overview of Current Law and Legislation.  Brian T. Yeh.  Washington, D.C.:  Congressional Research Service.  September 5, 2014.

Trade Secret. (New World Encyclopedia)

Trade Secret Law in Ohio. (Citizen Media Law Project) 

Trade Secrets. (Citizen Media Law Project)