For business owners in California, protecting your intellectual property should be a top priority. Generally speaking, a company’s intellectual property is its number one asset. Safeguarding that property through patents, copyrights, trade secrets is critical for control and monetization. What kind of intellectual property protection you choose to protect something can make a substantial difference as to what your business is capable of doing with it over the long term.

Trade Secrets vs. Patents

While trade secrets and patents are both widely used to protect certain forms of IP, there is a distinction between these two types of protection and what they mean for your ownership of the property over the long term.

In order to determine whether a patent or trade secret is right for you, a company must examine two factors:

  • Is 20 years a sufficient period of protection?
  • During that period, is a competitor likely to reverse engineer or independently reproduce the product?


A patent is a right granted to an inventor by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) that allows the inventor to exclude others from making, selling or using the invention for a period of time.

There are three different kinds of patents:

  1. Utility Patents: the most common, granted to new machines, chemicals, and processes.
  2. Design Patents: granted to protect the unique appearance or design of manufactured objects, such as the surface ornamentation or overall design of the object.
  3. Plant Patents: granted for the invention and asexual reproduction of new and distinct plant varieties, including hybrids.

In order to obtain a patent, an inventor must fully disclose his invention to the patent office, and this disclosure is released to the public when your patent is granted. While you hold the rights to your patent during the twenty year period, once it expires, it is fair game.

Trade Secrets

According to the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (UTSA), which protects trade secrets, a trade secret is “information, including a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique, or process that derives independent economic value” by remaining unknown. Famous examples of trade secrets include the algorithm for Google’s search rankings, the recipe for KFC’s chicken, and the criteria for the New York Times’ bestseller list.

Unlike patents, there is no formal registry office for trade secrets. Trade secrets derive their value from the fact that they’re a secret, and only those who know the details of the secret have the ability to utilize them, thus making them profitable. When the secret becomes exposed, then its value essentially vanishes along with the profitability any secret holders had in it. An experienced business lawyer will be able to work with you to best protect your company’s trade secret.

Next Steps

The experienced business lawyers at Webb Law Group will be able to help you determine whether a patent or trade secret is right for your business. Contact us today for a free review of your invention.