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Patent versus trade secret – which is best?

Entrepreneurs rely on intellectual property. An artist is protected by copyrights and brands are protected by trademarks. It seems only natural that inventions need to be protected by patents.

There are limits on patents, however, which distinguish them from other kinds of intellectual property. For these reasons there might be times when a trade secret works better. The complexities of this are why a close relationship with an intellectual property attorney can be very important for any business which depends on protecting its innovation.

Patent protection

A patent is an exclusive right to manufacture or sell something which is innovative. The item which is defined by a patent has to be shown to be new, and once granted the patent defines your exclusive rights to that invention.

In most cases, the protection granted by a patent is extremely valuable. There are very important ways in which a patent can be critical for innovators. These include:

  • Protection for your invention from the date of filing.
  • Exclusive rights to the invention described.
  • The definition of your property which can be sold or traded, if you desire.

The attraction for entrepreneurs is clear. Patent protection creates something of value which can attract investors or simply be sold on its own, should you want to concentrate on invention.

Trade secrets

Patent protection only lasts 20 years, meaning that once you file for one the clock is ticking on your ability to exploit your invention. The patent process itself requires that you disclose your invention to the world, which is to say that you have to define your property before you can defend it.

For these reasons, there are times when maintaining a trade secret might make more sense. For example, patent filings by major companies are routinely analyzed for clues as to their research goals. In a fast moving field, disclosure of technology can be a liability.

What is right for you?

Generally, the protections of a patent are extremely valuable for entrepreneurs. Unless your innovation can be kept a secret indefinitely, the time period allowed under a patent is usually sufficient for you to exploit it and build an important advantage in the market.

Some of the disadvantages created by disclosure can be overcome with a comprehensive strategy based around a portfolio of patents that protect every aspect of your invention, its use, and even its manufacture. 

Because of decisions like this, it is always critical to have an experienced intellectual property attorney advising you before you file for a patent. 

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