The answer is always “yes!”
Everyone already knows what they say about assumptions, but there are cases where knowing a possibility makes that particular possibility inevitable as time goes by. In other words… If it can happen, it eventually will.
Allow me to explain…
I’m creating a product that uses, what I believe, the cleanest, most concise and error free method I can formulate. This doesn’t mean I am the only one to figure out this method, nor the only method out there, as mine may not be any or all of those things in reality.
If this is the case, then there is a probability that elsewhere some people have come up with the exact same method to deliver their product. Which means they may or may not put the product to market before you. If it does come to market and you happen to see what it’s all about, you may be concerned.
At that point, the question doesn’t really matter, because it isn’t as if you would simply abandon the project because a competitor has something else. That’s what they do. That’s why they are called competitors. Only once you put your own product out there, then the question really comes up.
“Do they know that you know that they know?”
By considering the answer to that question as “yes”, you are no longer concerned with the secrets of manufacture, but quality and speed. Foregoing the old NASA joke of “Faster, Better, Cheaper… Pick two” all three are possible if the project is approached properly. That should be the only concern. The competitor will always always know that you know that they know. That is to say, don’t worry about it.
What matters is that your product does what it does as well as you can make do. It is only inevitable that you or your competitor figures out what each other is doing. What matters is that you stay ahead of the game with something new and put it out faster than they do. That way, they don’t have time to figure out what you did and how or when they do, it’s too late.
That’s how you change the question into “do they know that we know”. The answer, again, is always “yes!” Now you’re not working to figure out if the competitor knows, of your efforts to figure out their efforts, but whether they know of your efforts. An easily managable situation.
Once again, the solution isn’t “let’s keep everything secret”. The solution is to work fast and as well as possible to make the better product and bring it to market.
If at any point you are confused by this explanation, then feel free to read it as many times as necessary. ;)