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CCS Blog

A Trade Secrets Follow Up

by Jim Martin

We received several emails in response to our May article on protecting trade secrets. Most asked the same question: how do I determine if my trade secret ought to be patented? We talked with Don Boys, the President of Central Coast Patent Agency in Watsonville, who gave us a simple answer that should be easily applied. You should ask whether someone could purchase one of your products and reverse-engineer it to uncover your secret. If the answer is no, then you needn’t patent it.

A good example might be a barbecue sauce. It’s almost impossible to determine all the elements in a sauce (or a salsa, a salad dressing or a seasoning), let alone figure their exact proportions. Another example might be special tooling that allows you to produce a product more quickly or with more precision or to effect repairs more efficiently. In this case, what leaves your door cannot be used to determine exactly how you made it. You might want to pursue a patent on tooling with the idea of licensing or selling the tooling. After all, it might be possible to reverse-engineer a tool if you allow others to use it.

Don also informed us that the U. S. Patent Office will (for a $2,000 fee) “fast track” your patent application, allowing you to receive a patent in one year rather than the usual three.

If you decide you have something that should be protected by patent, you should use a professional in the preparation of the application. Wording can be important. “My invention is…” is more restrictive than “The class of applications of which my product is an example…” The latter covers similar, but not identical, products which employ your concept.