Intellectual property is a critical reality that every business owner needs to understand so they can protect their company’s assets. Many people confuse the various forms of intellectual property protection, which is understandable.
Two of the commonly confused forms of intellectual property are trademarks and trade secrets. While they may seem similar, they serve different purposes and provide different kinds of protection.
What’s the primary difference?
A trademark is a symbol, design, phrase, word or other marketing strategy that identifies and distinguishes the source of goods or services being offered. Trademarks protect the brand identity of a business and prevent others from using similar marks that may confuse the marketplace. Trademarks can be registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and established through use in commerce.
A trade secret, on the other hand, is confidential information that gives a business a competitive advantage. Trade secrets can include formulas, processes, designs and any other confidential information that differentiates a company’s products from the competition. Unlike trademarks, trade secrets are not registered with any government agency.
How can trademarks and trade secrets protect your business?
Registered trademarks offer your business exclusive rights to use your unique brand identity to differentiate yourself from rival businesses. This means no one else can use a similar mark in the same industry or market, preventing consumer confusion.
On the other hand, trade secrets give you a competitive edge, allowing you to retain your market share in the industry. As long as your trade secrets remain confidential, you can pride yourself in the unique approach that your company offers. Therefore, your business should take active steps to protect its trade secrets, such as limiting access to information and requiring employees, vendors and others to sign nondisclosure agreements.
Can trademarks and trade secrets expire?
Trademarks can last indefinitely, as long as they are used in commerce and renewed every ten years. However, trade secrets have no set duration of protection. Instead, they are protected as long as they remain confidential and provide a competitive advantage to the business. Once the information is no longer secret, it is no longer valuable to your business.
While trademarks and trade secrets may seem similar at first glance, there are significant differences in how they can potentially protect your business interests.