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Trade secrets: The fourth kind of intellectual property

The term "intellectual property" brings to mind patents, copyrights and trademarks. Those core protections cover a vast amount of information. And for many businesses, intellectual property (IP) is among their most valuable assets.

Another valuable type

Another type of IP, trade secrets, is often called "the fourth type" as the only protection it offers is protection against unauthorized disclosure. Although businesses may overlook trade secret protection, it can often be just as or even more valuable than the protection provided by patents, copyrights, and trademarks.

The classic example is Coca-Cola's secret formula. Without trade secret protection, Coca-Cola inevitably would have lost exclusive control of its formula due to the inherent limitations in other types of IP protections. For example, a patent expires after 20 years. Had Coca-Cola chosen to patent its formula, today there would be nothing to distinguish its product from the competition.

Trade secret protections

Trade secrets often overlap with other types of intellectual property. Like those other types, trade secrets are intangible. Trade secrets are also entitled to protection from theft or misappropriation.

Like trademarks and copyrighted materials, trade secrets also do not have to be registered to qualify for protection. As long as the information meets the trade secret definition, the information is protected.

Although trade secret protection may sound like the perfect IP solution, it has its own set of parameters distinct from the other types of IP. Unlike patents, trade secrets are not protected from independent discovery. If a competitor happened to create the exact same formula as Coke, for example, there would be nothing to stop the competitor from marketing the beverage as its own.

Remedies for trade secret theft in Oregon & Washington

In the event your trade secret is stolen or misappropriated, Oregon and Washington's trade secret acts provide a range of remedies for your business. Both states allow for injunctions, a court order for royalties, up to double damages, and prevailing party attorney's fees, among other things.

Consulting an attorney can not only help your business implement measures and processes designed protect your trade secrets, but will also help you understand your rights in the event of trade secret misappropriation.

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