What is a Trade Secret?
A trade secret is any non-public information that is treated as a secret and that provides a person or entity with a competitive advantage. Universities generally do not hold or possess trade secrets given the mission of promoting the free and public dissemination of knowledge. Trade secrets may also conflict with federal funding agencies mandates to broadly disseminate the results, data, and information that arise from the work performed utilizing federal funds. Here at UNH, it is explicitly against our Intellectual Property Policy to accept trade secrets (Sec. 5.23).
To gain and maintain “trade secret” status, the possessor of the secret must take commercially reasonable steps to maintain that information secret and confidential. Unlike patents and other forms of intellectual property protection, trade secrets do not have an expiration date. A trade secret may survive for as long as it remains secret. With proper safe guards, a court will enforce the rights of the trade secret holder by prohibiting parties who obtain the secret through improper means from using or disclosing the secret. Mrs. Fields’ Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, Listerine, WD-40, the KFC spice recipe, and the Coca-Cola recipe are examples of trade secrets. The formula and recipes behind each of these have been kept secret and have provided their owners substantial benefit for far longer than would have been available had they pursued patent protection.