A patent is the right granted by the government to an inventor for a limited period of time in exchange of disclosure of the invention to the public. This right granted to a patent owner allows the owner to generate revenue by selling, offering for sale, making, using, and licensing the patented product or process. Trade secret is defined as any formula, pattern, device or compilation of information that is used in a business to gain competitive advantage over third parties who are not aware of the trade secret. An excellent example of patent would be Nokia’s patents on mobile technologies. ‘Coca- Colas’ coke formulation is a very good example of tradesecret.
The same test of novelty and inventive step that is required for a patent is not required for a trade secret. If an invention passes the test of novelty and inventive step then it qualifies for patent protection and if a third party discovers the invention even through independent research, they cannot use that invention without the patent owner’s permission. Hence, patents protect against infringement. However, trade secrets do not protect against acquisition of trade secret by fair and honest means such as independent invention, legitimate reverse engineering and accidental disclosure by the trade secret owner.
Trade secrets can be converted into patents if the trade secret owner decides to file patent application with the patent office. However, a patent can never become a trade secret because patents are already in the public knowledge, and they cannot be kept as a secret.