Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Intellectual Property

A guide to understanding the different types of Intellectual Property (Copyright, Patents, Trademarks, Trade Secrets)

Trade Secrets

What is a Trade Secret? 

At its most basic, a Trade Secret is information that companies do not share in order to maintain a competitive edge over other commercial entities within the same industry. Companies will expend considerable resources to make sure this information remains secure.


How is Trade Secret defined?

"Trade secrets consist of information and can include a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique or process. To meet the most common definition of a trade secret, it must be used in business, and give an opportunity to obtain an economic advantage over competitors who do not know or use it."

Trade Secret Policy. (2019, November 1). Retrieved December 9, 2019, from

More examples of Trade Secrets: specific manufacturing methods, unique computer program code, secret recipe, blueprints, custom-made equipment, marketing strategies and corresponding data, genetic information, geological findings and data.



Why Does This Matter?

Due to the sensitive nature and potentially devastating economic outcomes of Trade Secrets being released or leaked, to a private company and to the global economy, firm regulations needed to be put in place to create guidelines for what would constitute a breach and what the appropriate redress would be. The Uniform Trade Secrets Act, created and published by the Uniform Law Commission in 1979, was designed to help states manage this independently of the federal government. The expectation was that it would be adopted by all 50 United States in order to help standardize these regulations. A unilateral adoption is essential since private companies are often located in multiple states. As of 2020, only 48 states have adopted it. Congress passed the Economic Espionage Act of 1996, as the first official federal effort acknowledging the importance of Intellectual Property rights and the power of Trade Secrets to possibly destabilize the entire US economy if unregulated. The Act criminalized the theft or misappropriation of Trade Secrets and established penalties. As a further measure, the Defend Trade Secrets Act, created in 2016 and enacted into law, is a set of federal regulations that address Trade Secret violations and discusses reparations.  

Trade Secrets and Higher Education

Here is a list of interesting articles about how Trade Secrets are applied to higher ed, impact higher ed policies, and are changing higher ed strategic planning.

Ethical College Admissions: Should a University Have Trade Secrets? - 2017, Chronicle of Higher Education

Managing secrets in higher education - 2019, LSE Impact Blog

Higher Education Under the Prosecutorial Microscope - 2020, Steptoe