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

The Harmonization and Protection of Trade Secrets in the EU:  An Appraisal of the EU Directive.  Jens Schovsbo, Timo Minssen and Thamas Riis.  Cheltenham, United Kingdom; Northampton, Massachusetts:  Edward Elgar Publishing Limited, 2020.   Explores the complex issues involved with trade secret protection in the European Union.

Protection of Trade Secrets:  Overview of Current Law and Legislation.  Brian T. Yeh.  Washington, D.C.:  Congressional Research Service.  April 22, 2016.  Background information on the topic, historical and current law overview, and a discussion of problems facing this type of protection.

Trade Secret. (New World Encyclopedia)  Brief description of what a trade secret is, comparison to other types of intellectual property, protection offered, etc.

Trade Secret Law in Ohio. (Citizen Media Law Project)  Cites Ohio Revised Code concerning Trade Secrets, discusses brief what legal remedies are available, and what the statute of limitations is in Ohio to file a claim.  There are also links to other states' Trade Secret Laws.

Trade Secret Law:  Including the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 in a Nutshell.  Sharon K. Sandeen and Elizabeth A. Rowe.  St. Paul, Minnesota:  West Academic Publishing, 2018.  Contains information on the origin and evolution of trade secret law, litigation and legal remedies, etc.

Trade Secrets. (Citizen Media Law Project)  General overview of the topic. 

Trade Secrets:  A State-by-State Survey.  Brian M. Malsberger.  Luke A. Suchyta, David J. Carr, Arnold Pedowitz and Eric Akira Tate (Editors)  Arlington, Virginia:  Bloomberg BNA, 2015.  Provides information how each state treats Trade Secrets.  Also included is information how current the information contained for each state is.