The technical knowledge and skill required to perform a task is referred to as “know-how”. Hence, “know-how” is distinct from patents, copyright and trademarks. Know-how can, in certain circumstances, be a trade secret if it is maintained as a secret.
Know-how generally resides with certain individuals and therefore can sometimes be difficult to transfer to third parties. In some cases, the individual does not even realize that he/she possesses certain “know-how” (i.e. unique knowledge or skill) that is essential for the successful practice of a process, an invention or a discovery. In some cases, the “know-how” can be identified and/or reduced to writing. In any case, the value of the “know-how” lies in its unique character that is not easily discovered or understood and because the “know-how” is not generally known.
Because “know-how” generally resides in the individuals’ (often our faculty’s) mind and skillset, our office will generally try to avoid licensing “know-how” and if licensed, licensing of “know-how” is typically done on a non-exclusive basis. Exclusive licensing of “know-how” generally conflicts with the University’s mission of broadly disseminating knowledge and skill for the benefit of mankind as well as negatively impacts our faculty’s ability to conduct future research that might require use of said “know-how”.
“Know-how” that is not actively maintained as a trade secret is generally protected by contract and enforced in accordance with the terms of said contract. Trade secrets are discussed here.