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A trade secret is technical or non-technical information that provides economic value and a competitive advantage from not being generally known to the public, that is not readily ascertainable, is not a personal skill, and that the owner has taken reasonable efforts to protect.
For technical information, by contrast with patents, a trade secret need not be disclosed, can be of unlimited duration, but is not protected against reverse engineering or accidental discovery.
Businesses can help to protect their trade secrets by requiring staff to sign non-disclosure agreements.
Information that could be trade secrets include customer lists, manufacturing processes and formulas such as that for Coca-cola.