Eventually you will have to share your ideas to get them created or distributed. So being a little afraid of someone stealing your ideas is totally natural. Luckily there are other ways to protect your ideas and start spreading the word before you can afford an actual patent.
Check it out:
Do your research. Before you begin working with anyone new, be it an individual or organization, do some research online. Do they have a good track record? Can you find any complaints about their business practices? Try to get a sense of what they're all about. If you find cause for concern, consider asking about it. As we all know, not everything you find online is true. But if their business practices seem sketchy before you've even begun to work with them, that's not a good sign.Use these three legal tools — with the help and oversight of an attorney:
- Non-disclosure agreement (NDA): Have anyone you work with sign a non-disclosure agreement that commits them to confidentiality. An NDA can be a mutual agreement between two parties not to share information with third parties, or it can go one-way (since you're sharing information about your idea with them). If the agreement doesn't have an expiration date, that's powerful.
- Non-compete agreement: If you hire someone to help you, have him or her sign a non-compete agreement. A non-compete agreement prevents an individual or entity from starting a business that would compete or threaten yours within an established radius.
- Work-for-hire agreement: If you hire someone to help fine-tune your product, make sure to establish that you own any and all improvements made to the idea. Anything they come up with, you own. You will still need to list the person who came up with improvements as a co-inventor in your patent, but they will have no rights to your invention.
Turn to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for help. Fortunately, patents aren't the only tools available to protect our ideas. First, file a provisional patent application. You can do this yourself online or use a template such as Invent + Patent System or Patent Wizard to help you. The USPTO also has call centers available with staff members on hand to answer questions and offer guidance.
Filing a PPA costs a little over $100, while patents can easily cost thousands of dollars in legal fees, depending on the complexity of your idea. A provisional patent application protects your idea for up to one year and allows you to label your idea as “patent pending.” You can then use the year to gain valuable insight into your idea.
Don't forget you can apply for a trademark fairly easily online and for less cost than an actual patent. A trademark is a great way to establish and grow your business.
Which route did you take to secure your invention?