Trade secrets consist of often-confidential information used by a business to obtain an advantage over competitors. Without being generally known or readily available, the use of this information can derive independent economic value. Trade secrets take the form of business formulas, patterns, programs, designs, methods, techniques and processes.
Unlike patents, which expire after 20 years, trade secrets will last for the amount of time the information is kept confidential. Following that theory, a trade secret could potentially last forever provided that its secret is well maintained.
Today, most states have legislation specifically intended for trade secrets and recognize some kind of trade-secret protection. Trade secret protection originated and is maintained through state laws, which use the Uniform Trade Secrets Act that has helped create a more uniform body of trade secret law from state to state.
The misappropriation of trade secrets (which could be the result of industrial espionage) is the only thing against which the owner of a trade secret has any recourse. The discovering of trade secrets through independent research is not considered misappropriation.
An injunctive relief (a court order refraining someone from carrying out a particular action) is available to prevent the disclosure of trade secrets by someone under an obligation not to disclose. Unfortunately, once a sensitive trade secret is leaked to the public, the effects can be extremely detrimental to a business. In many cases, no amount of money can compensate for the exposure of a trade secret.
Last update: Sept. 25, 2008