There are four primary categories of intellectual property in the US, and this blog generally discusses three--patents
and trademarks quite extensively, and a little on copyrights. The fourth is the
most elusive of these intangible assets: the trade secret. And it's also the main topic of this entry.
A trade secret is information that holds actual or potential value because it is not widely known, has value to others who cannot obtain it via legitimate means, and must be subject to “reasonable efforts to maintain its secrecy” (USPTO, https://www.uspto.gov/ip-policy/trade-secret-policy). Which basically means, it is privileged information critical to maintaining financial value or the economic function of an entity, that would be ruined if everyone knew about it. Some of the easiest examples to pose are the formula for Coke, or KFC’s 11 secret herbs and spices in their fried chicken. (Disclaimer: References to particular products, patents, trademarks, service marks, services, companies and/or organizations in this post are for illustrative or educational purposes only and do not constitute or imply endorsement by the Kelley Center, Fondren Library, Rice University or any of its affiliates.)
In reality, they are more than just recipes for commercial products. Sure, they include “recipes” like the formula for a gasoline (think of the performance lines that have catchy names and are advertised to clean your engine), but they are also information like customer lists, marketing models and strategies, or other patterns, processes, methods, systems, etc.
Three-minute introductory video on trade secrets by the USPTO's Global Intellectual Property Academy (GIPA)
Unlike patents, trademarks, or copyrights, there is no registration to help ensure legal protection for or ownership enforcement of a trade secret. Secrecy is their protection. Unfortunately, that means there is no centralized searchable database for trade secrets or who might have one. After all, just disclosing the existence of a trade secret might compromise it.
I wonder if Rice has some trade secrets? I am not actually “in the know”, so I am going to take a stab at a few, just for the fun of this blog entry.
Recruitment strategies: There is no way that Rice does not have some methodology to their recruitment for students and faculty. Who they select to pursue, and how a specific type of recruit is pursued, has to be some kind of articulated strategy. Keeping these secret would give an edge over other top-tier universities, making them less obviously financially valuable but nonetheless part of the continued function of Rice as a school.
Funding procurement methods: Ensuring new donors and sources of funding is vital to Rice’s existence. Scholarships, facilities, and more rely on it. Beyond annual giving drives, requests to alumni and the more common programs, there are other sources of revenue and securing their funds. And not just knowing the right people and having a set of instructions for how to approach them! Management of the capital and how to grow it, how to secure more non-fiduciary-exclusive streams of revenue, must be cards held closely to someone’s chest. Just as a financial company has their own methods to procure and unload stocks or investors, someone (or several someones? I should likely know at least a little more about this) at Rice has a methodology for managing funding.
Housing and Dining's Cinnamon Rolls: If you have never had one of Chef Roger’s cinnamon rolls from a servery, you won’t understand.Students wait in lines out the doors to get one of these fresh, warm, utterly decadent treats. They’re oversized, messy, perfect, and something probably best left as a fond memory for many of us who have graduated and since aged out of our twenties. Many cinnamon rolls exist in this world, but these are unique; they’re far better than most available from even higher-end bakeries. Hopefully H&D is keeping their recipe and formula adequately secret, and has everyone in their kitchens sign non-compete and non-disclosure agreements! For those unfamiliar, I truly am not exaggerating the love; people turn to Reddit seeking them out. Read about and see here students getting a sweet break during the pandemic.
|Very important Reddit posting, folks.|