Inventors Lab . . . Protecting Your Idea
Will Someone Take Your Idea?
One of the biggest fears I see among inventors is that someone will “steal” their idea. It’s not unreasonable, especially if it’s a sweet idea, but with a little care, some good judgement and some confidentiality, you need not let this fear constrain your pursuit.
Be prudent in how you share ideas. However, to succeed, you must share with those that can help you. You can’t do it in a vacuum, so let’s talk about the smart ways to do it.
Patents are the first thing many people think about for protecting a new idea. Yes, they can be good in many ways, but they also have their downsides — like cost, time, and being properly written. Depending on your situation, a Patent may be exactly what is needed — or maybe not. Don’t go hastily, however. There may be alternatives that can save a bundle — or at least delay the investment and allow time for the concepts to mature.
Some alternatives for confidential security include Provisional Patents, or Design Patents, and/or NDA’s, and Trade Secrets. Seek knowledgeable advice for your situation, of course, because all of these tools have their place, and none of them do it all.
Stay tuned, we’ll discuss some of the legal tools below, and a lot more about patents in the next Inventors Lab topic.
Legal Agreements – NDA
One smart thing is to use something called a CONFIDENTIALITY AGREEMENT — also known as an ‘NDA‘ (or Non-Disclosure Agreement) — which is a legal promise not to share. The essence of an NDA reminds everyone that there is Intellectual Property involved, and all parties need to show respect to the ownership of the IP. Again, my experience shows that reputable vendors are not interested in “stealing” your idea, they just want to help. The NDA then serves as a formal reminder that the content of the project must be considered confidential. If they’re reputable, they’ll honor it.
An attorney is the best source for an NDA if you want something specific, but that can get expensive. From what I’ve seen, every attorney’s office has “their version” of an NDA, and though they are all a little different, they basically all say the same things — some are just more wordy. Whatever you use, make sure you understand what is being said — and remember, the confidentiality agreement goes both ways.
(Don’t use a one-sided NDA. It’s just bad form to expect others to honor your IP, but not give respect to things they may share with you. Some Attorney’s put those out and think they are special for their clients, but it’s just about ego. Use a Mutual agreement, and respect others the way you want to be respected.)
Do attorneys charge by the word? Maybe they just think that you value their services more if they give you a lengthy document? Or maybe they feel they have to justify their high price with a lot of hard to read and difficult to understand words? You know they just use the same basic NDA template for every client. To me, the really long and arduous document serves little purpose over something concise. If you’re not willing to trust someone, then a long document isn’t really going to change that.
As an alternative, to purchasing your own special NDA, we’ve posted our “boiler-plate” one in the sidebar for download. It’s simple and concise as a good place to start. Feel free to use this as a base, or modify it to fit your specific needs — but . . .
Finally, please remember, as a document, an NDA does not guarantee anything. They’re good to have, they serve a good purpose, but your FIRST, and most important course is to use judgment when choosing who you talk with about your invention. The signing of such a document does not guarantee honorable behavior. Please make sure you work with good reputable companies like Synthesis Engineering Services, Inc. so that your ideas and your intellectual property are respected.