Trade secrets vs. patents

When you have a useful invention should you file for a patent or maintain it as a trade secret? A comparison of the advantages and disadvantages of patents and trade secrets are given in the table below.



Trade secrets

Public or private?

Public. A patent can be kept secret for 18 months after it is filed, after which it must be published.

Private. Trade secrets must never be made publicly available.

Owner’s legal action

Easier. The government has put its stamp of approval on the invention.

Harder. The owner must prove that the invention qualifies as a trade secret and that the defendant did not independently invent it.


High. There is a significant cost to “prosecute” a patent, which includes the attorney costs, filing costs, and costs to address all patent office rejections and actions.


Protection from theft

Harder. The invention is described in detail to the public.

Easier. The invention is kept secret.


Limited. The government grants rights for 17 to 20 years after which anyone can produce the invention.

Unlimited. As long as the invention is kept secret.


Restricted. The owners are only the patent holders who are on record with the patent office.

Unrestricted. If the invention is created independently, any number of inventors and owners can exist.

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