1 May 2018Americas

LSPN North America: Are trade secrets an effective method of protecting inventions?

Innovators are being encouraged to research the benefits of using trade secrets as an effective method of protecting inventions.

Philip Strassburger, senior vice president of IP and litigation at Purdue Pharma, welcomed more research into the subject at the Life Sciences Patent Network North America event in Boston on Thursday, April 26.

Addressing a hall full of international delegates, Strassburger said it is worth further exploring the value of trade secrets as a method of protecting inventions.

Strassburger gave the example of Coca-Cola as a company that protects its product through trade secrets rather than patents. The drink company’s recipe is known only to a few employees.

Considering the differences between US patents and trade secrets, Strassburger said that patents—which must be granted by the US Patent and Trademark Office—must fully disclose the invention, with rights lasting 20 years.

Patents provide the inventor with the right to exclude others from using the inventions, although they can exclude those who independently come up with the idea, Strassburger said.

Trade secrets, on the other hand, are rights obtained by protecting secrecy and do not include the disclosure of an invention. While the rights can last forever, they cannot (in theory) prevent someone from independently discovering and using the invention. If the secrecy is lost, then the rights are also lost.

When deciding how to protect a product, Strassburger said that you have to consider how likely it is that a patent will be enforced. For example, in what jurisdiction will you have to protect it and will there be any opposition? You should also think about how expensive it will be to enforce the patent.

Meanwhile, he questioned whether trade secrets could provide meaningful protection.

Addressing the audience, Strassburger said that “scholarly work into this area ... would be very valuable”. He added that “some type of real empirical evidence to ask “are we adding value or would we be adding value by maintaining trade secrets?” would be welcome.

The LSPN North America event took place at the Ritz-Carlton in Boston on Thursday, April 26.

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