Some people get confused between trade secrets and trademarks. A trademark is something that is publicly recognized and known as being officially associated with a particular company. In contrast a trade secret can be a much more broad definition and by its very name is not made public.
According to the laws in most states, any device, pattern, formula, idea, or collection of information that gives the owner an advantage in the marketplace and is protected by the owner in a way that shows that it is expected to keep them competitors or the public from finding out about it without stealing it is considered a trade secret.
There are many examples I can give of trade secrets. In an actual product, a trade secret could be the way certain ingredients are combined in the formulation of a nutritional supplement. Recipes, in particular those employed at commercial restaurants, are considered to be trade secrets.
One very famous one that I can think of right off is Colonel Sander's recipe for his Kentucky Fried Chicken. An idea for an invention that one has that they have not filed for a patent on yet would also be considered a trade secret, as are the complex algorithms that search engines like Google use to give us search results online.
Trade secrets are the opposite of other types of protection of intellectual property such as trademarks and patents. The whole idea of a trade secret is to keep it from public knowledge and it is basically something that a person or company does themselves. Your trade secret will be given protection under law until you make the information public.
Companies and individuals protect information that they are unable to guard with other legal means such as patents and trademarks. There are numerous things that can be considered trade secrets. An idea that will give you a big jump over your competition in a particular market or even an idea for a piece of software or a website would also be a trade secret. Business information that you keep secret and only allow access to by such employees as marketing plans, costs, and pricing would be protected under law.
According to the law, the owner of a trade secret can legally prevent employees from using trade secret information or disclosing it by binding them with confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements. They also have legal protection from people who get the information by stealing it or through industrial espionage as well as people who get the information knowing that it is a protected trade secret.
The best way for a company to protect itself legally is to have employees sign a non-disclosure agreement, also known as an NDA. You should also have them signed by anyone that you do business with such as lenders and investors. An intellectual property attorney can help you with drafting this important document.