"A trade secret consists of any confidential formula, device, or piece of information which gives its holder a competitive advantage so long as it remains secret.16 An example would be the formula for Coca-Cola. Trade secrets can include information that is not novel enough to be subject to patent protection, or not original enough to be protected by copyright (e.g., a database of seismic data or customer lists). Trade secret laws are used to prevent “misappropriations” of the trade secret, or to award damages for such misappropriations.
Trade secret protection is obtained by declaring that the details of a subject are secret. The trade secret theoretically may last indefi¬nitely, although disclosure, reverse-engineering, or independent in¬vention may destroy it. Trade secrets can protect secret information and processes, e.g., compilations of data and maps not protectable by copyright, and can also be used to protect software source code not disclosed and not otherwise protectable by patent. One disad¬vantage of relying on trade secret protection is that a competitor who independently invents the subject of another’s trade secret can ob¬tain a patent on the device or process and actually prevent the original inventor (the trade secret holder) from using the invention." (http://mises.org/books/against.pdf)