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Trade Secrets vs. Patents vs. Copyrights

William B. Hanley June 1, 2020

Trade secrets, patents, and copyrights are part of a family of law referred to as intellectual property. However, there are some differences between them, depending on the work you are trying to protect. In fact, one or more of these intellectual property tools can be used to protect your company's work, products, or inventions.

Attorney William B. Hanley, an experienced commercial litigation attorney, wants to educate you about trade secrets, patents, and copyrights in order to protect your work. William B. Hanley is proud to serve clients in Irvine, Orange County, Los Angeles, and San Diego, California.

Protecting Intellectual Property

Just as you would protect your physical assets, it is also important to protect intellectual property such as your company's name, content, logo, original creations, inventions, and creative ideas. However, each intellectual property requires different procedures to protect them. Common types of intellectual property include trade secrets, patents, and copyrights.

Trade Secrets

According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), trade secrets are confidential business information that provides a company or organization an economic advantage over their competitors. Trade secrets include formulas, patterns, algorithms, programs, ingredients, devices, methods, compilations, techniques, and processes. 

Examples of Trade Secrets

Examples of trade secrets include:

  • The Google search algorithm

  • The secret ingredients for KFC's original recipe

  • Coca-Cola's recipe

  • The New York Times bestseller list

  • McDonald's Big Mac special sauce

All of these trade secrets provide their owners with a competitive advantage in the free market.

What You Need to Prove for a Trade Secrets Claim

To prove a claim, the plaintiff in a trade secret litigation must show that: 

  • The information is valuable to the  business and  has been kept secret

  • The information is not generally known

  • The defendant has used the trade secret

If your trade secrets were stolen or used without permission, an experienced business litigation attorney can help you recover damages.


A patent is a right granted by the federal government to an inventor, which gives the inventor the legal rights to exclude other companies from making, selling, or using the invention for a specified period of time.

Types of Patents

Some types of patents include:

  • Design patents

  • Utility patents

  • Plant patents

  • Software patents

  • E-commerce system patents

  • Method and process patents

  • Electrical engineering patents

  • Mechanical patents


Copyrights can be described as the exclusive legal right, given to the creator of an original work, such as movies, songs, or software. Some examples of works that are eligible for copyright protection include:

  • Literary, graphic, musical, architectural plans, and sculptural works.

  • Derivatives of protected works, such as a sequel, for example, Avengers and Star Wars movies.

  • Motion pictures, video art, and other audio-visual works.

  • Original compilations of facts, for example, a field guide and almanacs.

Copyright Owner's Rights

Copyright ownership gives the author of an original work or holder of the copyright six exclusive rights. These include:

  • The right to reproduce and make copies of an original work.

  • The right to prepare derivative works based on the original work.

  • The right to distribute copies to the public by sale or another form of transfer, such as rental or lending.

  • The right to perform the work publicly.

  • The right to display the work publicly.

  • The right to perform sound recordings publicly through digital audio transmission.

If your trade secrets, patents, or copyrighted works were stolen or used without your permission, you have the right to sue for damages and pursue claims. Hiring a knowledgeable corporate litigation attorney can increase your chances of success in your intellectual property lawsuit. Attorney William B. Hanley can help you fight for the resolution your company deserves.

Experienced Business Litigation Attorney in Irvine, California

If you are trying to file or defend against an intellectual property lawsuit, contact William B Hanley, Attorney at Law, immediately. For more than 45 years, Attorney William B. Hanley has been handling intellectual property matters, including trade secrets, patents, and copyrights litigation. He is proud to act as your legal advocate, offering his extensive experience and knowledgeable guidance. He will assess your situation, review your case, and determine the best approach for your unique circumstances. Attorney William B. Hanley is proud to represent business owners in Irvine, California, and neighboring communities of Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego. Call him today to schedule a free consultation.