Protecting confidential information from getting into the hands of competitors is a top priority for companies. Intellectual property law provides several important tools for protecting a business’ intellectual property: copyrighting, trademarking and patenting. Each of these protections has a very particular use.
According to the United State Patent and Trademark Office, trademarks are applied to a “word, phrase, symbol or design which identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.” Patents provide their holder a limited duration property right for an invention in exchange for public disclosure of the invention. Copyrights protect works of authority “tangible expressed in physical form.”
Each of the above tools is useful for different types of intellectual property. For businesses, though, there is another category of intellectual property known as a trade secret which doesn’t fall within the above categories. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, a trade secret is “any confidential information which provides an enterprise a competitive edge.” Trade secrets can include manufacturing, industrial and commercial secrets, which encompasses things like sales, manufacturing and distribution methods, advertising strategy, client and supplier lists, and consumer profiles. The category is really quite broad.
Many companies rely heavily on trade secret protections to stay competitive, particularly in fast-moving industries where ordinary intellectual property protections can be too cumbersome for the needs of the business.
Until recently, trade secret protection was only available through the state courts, but the recent passage of The Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 has changed that. In our next post, we’ll look at the new law and what protections it has to offer to businesses.