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Know-how might be, for example, the ability to use a particular machine, the ability to understand the meaning of test results or having the technique that enables a composition to be made correctly every time without the need to repeat it and waste material.

Trade secrets can protect those ideas, designs, inventions, processes, manufacturing methods etc that are valuable to your business but that might not be appropriate for other forms of intellectual property protection, or for which a decision has been made to protect them by secret. Typically trade secrets will be capable of being kept secret, so usually are associated with processes rather than materials or products.

Trade secrets protect from competitors your ideas and inventions or know-how, designs and processes by the simple method of not telling them. Trade secrets allow you to have a monopoly on the know-how kept secret, until that is someone else independently arrives at the secret. In addition, trade secrets allow you to protect, for example, a process or piece of knowledge that it's not easily protectable by other means. For example, it may be a procedure in manufacturing that was discovered, but which would be difficult to argue was novel and inventive in a patent application, but which might delay a competitor in producing a product.

By keeping such knowledge a secret, you avoid the risk of disclosing the development in a patent application, which may never be granted - which means disclosing your secrets in exchange for no benefit.

Protecting your intellectual property through trade secrets alone has its risks, however. There is the risk that the secret will leak out of the organisation and with no other protection, all your advantage may be lost. By keeping an invention as a secret means that it is possible a third party may patent it before you do. If this happens, you will be able to continue to do what you were doing before on a commercial level, but it may be difficult for you to expand or change your activities without infringing the later patent.

Know how and trade secret facts


Inventions, concepts, designs, processes, knowledge, skills, etc


Without knowing what or how you achieve your end result, it is very difficult for competitors to replicate your work in the same way. However, in the event that they figure out a solution for themselves, there is little in the way of legal protection available.


Indefinite, or until someone tells


Very low. There is a cost in taking the steps to maintain a secret, especially if it involves an outside organisation.

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