What are the Advantages of Patents Over Trade Secrets?
While there are several advantages of patents over trade secrets, there is one advantage that stands above all others. The advantage is that even though trade secrets can theoretically last forever, versus the limited duration of exclusivity with a patent, secrets are hard to keep. For this reason, trade secrets can be very fragile. One public disclosure can destroy trade secret rights forever. Loose lips. Mistakes. Miscommunications. Reverse Engineering. And, if your trade secrets are valuable enough, your competitors will do everything in their power to uncover them. They will buy your products and tear them apart. They will search through your garbage for confidential records. They will try to hire your employees. They will bribe. They will steal. To keep your trade secrets, secret, you need a strong secret-keeping infrastructure; both technical and cultural. This can be challenging and expensive to build and maintain. Keep in mind, every employee in your company and every contractor that does business with your company is a potential leak. And, it’s not just that they will post the wrong thing or say the wrong thing to the wrong people. The bigger risk of leaks relates to their bad cyber habits. Imagine thousands of employees using public wifi, having simple passwords, clicking on links contained in unsolicited emails (that contain malware), clicking on links from nefarious sites (that also contain malware). Downloading free games and movies (yes…more malware). Simply the leaks can be everywhere.
With patents, on the other hand, while you only have exclusivity for 20 years from the date you initial filed your patent application, you have more certainty in the duration of your exclusivity. Once your patent is filed with the patent office, you can disclosure your invention to anyone and everyone with no fear of losing it.