Did you know that you don’t need to patent every bright idea that you have in order to make money off it? Some of the most valuable intellectual property is protected as a trade secret. And to have a trade secret, you don’t even need to file an application for it — you just don’t tell anyone what the secret is.
Think of Coca-Cola. Despite being required to print its ingredients on every single bottle, Coca-Cola has made billions off its trade secret recipe. If Coca-Cola’s inventor had decided to file a patent application in 1892 instead of keeping the recipe a secret, patent protection would have expired long before Pepsi ever came onto the market in 1965. Patent protection lasts 20 years at most. Trade secrets can last forever.
As engineers, sometimes we just assume that to make money off an invention, you have to file a patent application. That’s simply not true. The law firm at which I work recently met with the founder and CEO of a small company that pioneered a new process of separating a chemical from a feedstock. That invention had the potential to drastically reduce production costs for a wide swath of bulk commodity products. He had just suffered through a presentation from a different law firm that proposed his company spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to patent the process and was astounded to hear our proposal:...
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