It’s easy to assume that most important new products are patented. Turns out that may not be the case.

Recently, a study by the Technical University of Lisbon’s Department of Economics examined this issue in more detail. Its findings surprised me.

This study looked at the “R&D 100 Awards” given out by the journal Research and Development, “one of the most authoritative regular publications for R&D practitioners.” For decades, the journal has been giving out this prize to the “100 most technologically significant new products available for sale or licensing” in the preceding year. The study authors searched the USPTO to see whether the award-winning products had been patented.

Of the 2802 innovations examined, almost 91% were not patented. Eliminating those innovations owned or created by non-corporate entities does not change the result much, as only 87% of corporate innovations were patented.

I’m not going to analyze the reasons why so few innovative products were patented. For our purposes, this study simply highlights the importance of trade-secrets laws and protections. Certainly, all companies offering products that are not patented need to make sure they are taking the necessary steps under the applicable trade-secrets laws to protect proprietary aspects of design, production, distribution, sales, and so on.

(h/t: Orrick’s new Trade Secrets Watch blog tweeted an article discussing this study.)

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