Being the first to invent a marketable idea or product has many rewards. Licensing an invention to business entities or individuals expands opportunities for increasing wealth. At the same time, a person’s invention could be in jeopardy as details are revealed. Considerations for how to copyright certain works of authorship is also important to expanding opportunities.
While most are happy to partner honestly with an inventor, some might want to copy or steal the idea. It is important to protect an invention before sharing it with others.
First Steps of Protection
There are several initial steps to take to protect an invention. Knowing how to copyright the idea or product can guarantee legal protection. Other things to consider:
- File for a provisional patent
- Consider copyright protection
- Prepare a Nondisclosure Agreement (NDA) for potential customers to sign if the invention is not patentable
- Use caution when disclosing details if customers refuse to sign a NDA and the invention is not patentable
Secure a Patent
A person can file for a provisional patent on an invention that meets certain criteria. Essentially, the invention qualifies for a patent if it is a new process or machinery. The invention could also be an improvement to an existing process or machine.
A patent establishes individual rights to the creation of the invention. Achieving a patent pending status for the invention often deters theft and also provides protects.
The provisional patent is filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) or by visiting the website for instructions.
Some people confuse patent and copyright. While there are some legal similarities, a few things distinguish the two. A patent protects ideas, inventions and discoveries. A copyright protects original written works. Nevertheless, either a patent or copyright can provide the legal protection needed for an invention.
Knowing how to copyright original works, whether it is a song, music or software can prevent others from reaping the benefits of another’s hard work. Similar to a patent, a person should register with the U.S. Copyright Office for public record of ownership.
Use Nondisclosure Agreements
In some cases, an invention or idea is not patentable. If this occurs, using NDAs while in discussions with potential customers will legally protect the invention. If a customer breaches any provision in the NDA, the inventor has a right to sue for damages caused by the breach.
The Nondisclosure Agreement should explicitly describe:
- What is considered confidential information and what is open for public knowledge. Typically, a section is included about a trade secret. NDAs may also list exclusions from confidential information to remove undue burdens of obligation on both parties.
- How the trade secret is to be protected. Standards of care for not revealing a trade secret lists the obligations of both parties to maintaining confidentiality. For example, an explanation is included for handling information with others who are not part of the NDA.
- The length of obligations to honoring the NDA. Typically, the inventor wants a long period of time and the potential customer wants less time. This point of contention is often resolved during negotiations. Most periods last between two and five years. Flexibility for the inventor depends on how son others may attempt to duplicate the invention.
- Penalties for breaching the NDA. Consideration for arbitration or other types of resolution might be appropriate.
Alternatives to a Nondisclosure Agreement
In some cases, a NDA may not be feasible with a potential customer. However, the right to protect an invention remains. Alternatives to signing a NDA include:
- Developing a confidential business relationship. This is less formal and still preserves the inventor’s rights if the potential customer initiated contact with the inventor.
- Telling the potential customer that the invention is a proposition for business and payment is expected.
- Explicitly stating that disclosed information remains a secret.
- The information disclosed has commercial value unknown to potential competitors.
Another alternative is to only disclose basic information about the invention. During initial negotiations, a potential customer should not want full details. Disclosing critical details or specific components can expose the invention to theft or duplication. Only a potential customer with a solid business reason would want more than the basics.
Innovation is a powerful engine to the U.S. economy. Many people seek new and better ways of doing things. The ingenuity of inventors is valuable to progress and warrants protection to ensure everyone has a fair chance at success.
The importance of knowing how to copyright certain works ensures important information is not tied up in court. Likewise, obtaining a patent for an invention or idea secures the inventor’s authority and guarantees progress continues to move forward. Protection for a business invention is the best way to ensuring prosperity.