I like to call the "Trade Secret" patent's long lost cousin and it is one of the most under used (and under valued) forms of intellectual property protection. Trade secrets are recognized by every state. Most items that can be protected by a patent like methods and formulas may also be protected by a trade secret. The greatest requirement to getting trade secret protection is that you have to take actual actions to keeping your idea secret. Numerous individuals will write their formula or procedure down and maintain it inside a locked safe. This may sound outdated but this really is an acceptable way to prove to the courts that your new concept is a trade secret.
Some reasons why Trade Secrets may be better than a patent?:
Patents are only good for 20 years: At first glance 20 years might sound like a long time but a strong company or new corporation ought to have programs to last a great deal longer than twenty years. If Coke decided to file a patent on their secret formula it would have expired a hundred years ago and they could be forced to complete with generic formulas that taste exactly like their item today.
You must go out and sue someone to protect your idea: You have to really hire an lawyer and sue somebody who you believe is copying your patent. Just because the USPTO gave you a patent doesn't indicate that they'll go out and enforce it for you. This component may become very expensive.
Publication of your ideas: Too many entrepreneurs don't realize that patents and pending patent applications get published. This means that all of your 'secret ideas' such as how to make and use your new invention are available for anybody in the world to read (at no cost). If you invented a new hair care item your secret formula will be published online in a patent application, how would you even know if somebody else copied your formula or made tweaks to it to create their very own competing item?
For these reasons a patent may not be your best choice to protect and grow your business. Patents are very useful for software companies or companies that have a new technology or tool. For other type companies such as lifestyle companies or service based companies a patent may not be your ideal option. See my post on how to patent for a new idea.