A trade secret is any private information or item that an organization uses to gain an economic edge over its competitors. Trade secrets can range from a restaurant’s secret recipe to an e-commerce company’s delivery system to a tech company’s algorithm for its search engine. While trade secrets do not include data in general, or data known to the public, if an organization combines that known data with private information, the resulting information could be considered a trade secret.
In addition to being confidential and an economic boon to an organization, a trade secret is also something that the organization can reasonably keep secret. Groups must take clear measures to protect the information. This includes restricting physical access to it and training employees on its sensitive nature. The Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) is a set of federal regulations that defines trade secrets, enumerates trade secret violations and discusses potential courses of redress.
In some cases, a trade secret remains just that – a secret. In other cases, a trade secret may be disclosed to interested parties. For example, a UC Berkeley industry partner might share its trade secret with researchers who need to know it in order to do their work. UC Berkeley’s Intellectual Property & Industry Research Alliance (IPIRA) works with industry partners to set the terms of confidentiality around these secrets.
Generally, when a university discovers or compiles information, that data is used to create an invention that can be patented, or it is disseminated to the public via journal articles and conference presentations. Because they exist fundamentally in the interest of the public, universities do not tend to protect information as trade secrets.