Patents, Utility Innovation and Trade Secrets – How Do They Compare?

Patents, Utility Innovation and Trade Secrets – How Do They Compare?

Not all inventions can be patented, and not all inventions would be worth the time, money and effort spent in filing it for patent protection.

For example, it is very common for companies to improve on existing inventions, resulting in another invention which is new and industrially applicable, but not quite inventive. Such inventions are best registered as Utility Innovations (or petty patents) – for the inventor to enjoy the protection accorded to those who fail to meet the three criteria to patent registration.

Trade secrets, on the other hand, form another category of Intellectual Property that does not require registration with any government body. Legal protection of trade secrets is generally considered to be weak as the onus is often on the owner of the invention to guard and keep them confidential.

Therefore, Trade Secrets commonly consist of inventions that are virtually impossible for others to reverse engineer, like recipes. One famous example of a trade secret is the recipe of the Coca-Cola beverage.

Unlike patents, trade secrets have no expiry date and their owners are not bound by any obligations to disclose. Therefore, exclusive rights and access to trade secrets remain as long as they are successfully kept confidential – and this is often one of the greatest motivation and incentives for certain inventors to choose a trade secret over a patent.

However, do note that this is where the greatest challenge with a trade secret tends to lie – the challenge in keeping it a secret!