Trade secrets are used to protect business workflows, inventions, and assets from ever becoming
available to competitors. Although having a trade secret does not limit others from reproducing
your item directly, the idea is that, when paired with something that cannot be reverse-engineered,
that item will be solely yours. In the event of a rogue employee sharing your trade secret, legal
action can be taken, although the damage would likely have already been done to your business.
Examples of typical trade secrets might be customers lists or manufacturing processes. Possibly
the most famous trade secret of all time is the formula for Coca-Cola.
By having a trade secret, it is important to recognize the risk, and long-term factors that
might inhibit success. For example, in the event of a trade secret becoming publicly known
(through uninvited employee disclosure or reverse-engineering by a third party), patentability
might be affected. Following the philosophy of patents, the USPTO tends to look down upon keeping secrets of this nature.
Trade secrets have the advantage of being able to last forever, but they are often difficult
to enforce, especially in larger organizations.