trade secretWhen many entrepreneurs think of trade secrets, they think of high-tech companies or large manufacturers. For example, software architecture and source code are generally protected using trade secrets. Another example of businesses that have many trade secrets is legacy manufacturers which need to protect how products are made, what products are made out of, etc. Famous examples of trade secrets from these industries range from Google’s® search algorithms to KFC’s® “11 secret herbs and spices.”

But all businesses – even the most “simple” – have trade secrets. At the very least, all businesses have customer lists, vendor lists, profitability/pricing information, etc. – with many businesses having much more. The best way to evaluate whether certain information might be a trade secret is to think about real-world business consequences. I often ask my clients,

If one of your best employees left for a competitor and took certain business information with them, would that be upsetting?”

If the answer is “yes,” then that information needs to be evaluated for potential trade secret protection. That can run the gamut from customer lists to the “secret sauce” that makes a business successful.

Whether your business is large or small, below are five important tools that can be used to protect trade secrets.

Legal Tools to Maintain Secrecy


Continue Reading 5 Tools Small Businesses Can Use to Protect Their Trade Secrets

IP LawAfter years of research and development, your company is finally about to launch a new “game changing” product. You know you need to protect this product, but where do you start? What do you name your new product, and how do you protect that name? These and other frequently asked questions often arise in new entrepreneurial ventures — whether for new businesses or new product lines for existing businesses.

Most business owners intuitively understand the value of their intellectual property. They understand that their products, brands and other ideas need to be protected, but can be confused by some of the “jargon” used in intellectual property law with words like “patent,” “trademark” and “copyright.” This post helps explain some of the key differences between patents, trademarks and copyrights.

What is a patent?

A patent is a legal right to exclude others from making, using, selling, offering for sale, or importing a patented invention for a fixed period of time. In the U.S., patents are exclusively under federal jurisdiction and are awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in exchange for making public an enabling disclosure of the invention, and generally last for 20 years (15 years for design patents).


Continue Reading What is the difference between patents, trademarks and copyrights?

Product packaging is a critical part of every manufacturer’s operations (and even that of many wholesalers and retailers). A product’s packaging is often the first thing customers see: and first impressions count. That is why, for example, an entirely new discipline – packaging engineering – has grown over the last several decades and why companies like Starbucks® and Apple® work so hard to have every napkin, cup, box and bag uniformly branded.

Yet despite the obvious commercial and marketing importance of product packaging, many companies fail to protect the intellectual property rights embodied in such packaging – rights which can often be secured under patent, copyright and/or trademark law.

Product packaging is one of those often overlooked areas of intellectual property. Manufacturing clients rightly focus on protecting their products but sometimes forget that consumers usually see their packaging first. Failing to protect such packaging can be a major misstep since competitors often infringe upon both packaging as well as products.

Design Patent

A design patent protects the ornamental design (i.e., the “look and feel”) of an invention. In other words, design patents protect the way an invention (including, potentially, product packaging) looks. When most people think about patents, they think about a “utility patent” – something which protects utilitarian or functional aspects of an invention. But a “design patent” is different – it protects the appearance of an invention. That’s often perfect for packaging. In general, that means that new, useful and non-obvious packaging designs can potentially be protected.

Major companies have been using design patents to protect product packaging for over a century. For example, U.S. D48160 is a design patent issued in 1915 over what we now know as the Coca-Cola® bottle. More recent examples include everything from Chobani’s design patent covering product packaging for yogurt boxes (U.S. D828766S1) and Kraft’s design patent covering a salad dressing bottle (U.S. D659000S1) to Starbucks’ design patents for a coffee cup (U.S. D529762S1) and a coffee cup lid (U.S. D516424).

How should companies decide whether or not to consider seeking design patent rights?


Continue Reading Copyright and patent protection apply to product packaging, too