Join Dana Robinson for an in-depth discussion in this video Overview of trade secrets, part of Understanding Trade Secrets: A Deeper Dive.
- Trade secrets are a type of intellectual property, or IP. Before I get deeper into the subject of trade secrets, I'd like to give you a quick overview of IP. IP includes five main types of law. Trademark law protects against anything that might be used to indicate the source of good or services. Typically, a trademark is a brand name. It can also be a slogan or logo. In some cases a color or packaging shapes can be protected under trademark law as well. Copyright law protects original works of authorship, like books, music, sculptures, art, computer code, and other creative works.
Patent law protects inventions. Ideas that are useful, novel, and non-obvious can be patented and have a 20 year period of protection. Right of publicity law protects a person's right to exploit their name and image and their likeness and their voice. Typically, right of publicity is used by celebrities to endorse products or services. The fifth type of intellectual property is the trade secret. Trade secret law protects confidential information. It sounds simple, but let's dig deeper into this body of law.
I'd like to give you a simple definition of trade secret, but this is one area of law that is defined by state law instead of federal law. This means that each state can define a trade secret differently, so I can't just give you one universal law for what constitutes a trade secret. I'll have to walk you through a few different versions. But, before I get to the technical definitions, let me give you some examples of what types of things are famous trade secrets. There's the secret formula to Coca-Cola. That's a trade secret.
The Colonel's secret recipe to crispy chicken has been touted as a trade secret. The mud used to rub on a baseball before it's used is a trade secret. Mrs. Field's cookie recipe is a trade secret. How a book gets on the New York Times bestseller list is actually a trade secret. Listerine mouthwash is a trade secret recipe. WD-40 is a trade secret. The ingredients of a Twinkie snack is a trade secret. McDonald's Big Mac special sauce is a trade secret.
These are just a few examples of many trade secrets that are important intellectual property assets of American companies. Just about every business in the world has trade secrets. Many of the biggest trade secrets are recipes, as you can guess from the list I provided, but an even more common trade secret is a business plan that a company is working on before it becomes public. Think of what a company does, and you'll start to see where the trade secrets are. What would the company not want the competitors to know? How about customer lists, business plans, products that are still being researched and developed, advertising campaigns that are not yet public, marketing plans before they're launched, competitive information about their market, their competitors and their consumers, or consumer data.
Now, these are just some examples of things that might be protectable as a trade secret. Let's get deeper into the law itself.