This paper tests a number of hypotheses on the use and effectiveness of patents and trade secrets designed to protect innovation. While previous studies have often considered patents and trade secrets as substitutes for one another, we investigate the complementary role of the two protection methods. We identify protection strategies for single innovation firms and hence overcome the assignment problem of existing empirical studies, i.e. whether firms using both protection methods do so for the same innovation or for different innovations. Employing firm panel data from Germany, we find fairly few differences between the determinants for choosing secrecy and patenting. Single innovators that combine both strategies, 39% of the group, tend to aim at a higher level of innovation and act in a more uncertain technological environment. Firms combining both protection methods yield significantly higher sales with new-to-market innovations. Using only secrecy has slightly stronger positive impacts on firm profitability.
Crass, Dirk, Francisco Garcia Valero, Francesco Pitton and Christian Rammer (2016), Protecting Innovation Through Patents and Trade Secrets: Determinants and Performance Impacts for Firms with a Single Innovation, ZEW Discussion Paper No. 16-061, Mannheim. Download