Pitching your new, marketable invention is always a risk if you disclose too much information. Even after stating this, it shouldn't deter you from shopping around your invention.
Here are some ways to protect your ideas while marketing your invention:
Filing a Provisional Patent Application: If your invention potentially qualifies for a patent, it may be worth your while to file a provisional patent application ($65 for micro entities) and obtain “patent pending” status. Most often, this will deter rip-offs. For more information on filing a provisional patent application, see Basics of Provisional Patent Applications”.
Using Nondisclosure Agreements: However, if you determine that the invention is probably not patentable, the best way to protect yourself is to have prospective licensees sign a nondisclosure agreement (sometimes called a disclosure agreement or confidentiality agreement) before you disclose any secrets. If someone signs a nondisclosure agreement and later uses your secret without authorization, you can sue for damages.
Obligations of the Receiving Party: The person or company you're sharing confidential information with generally must hold the information in confidence and limit its use. Under most state laws, the receiving party cannot breach the confidential relationship, induce others to breach it or induce others to acquire the confidential information by improper means. Most companies accept these obligations without discussion. If you enter into a mutual nondisclosure agreement (where you also agree to keep information confidential), you should also feel comfortable with these requirements.
Disclosing Without an Agreement: It's always safest to get a prospective licensee to sign a nondisclosure agreement, but you may not always be able to convince them to do so. When that happens, you are left in a vulnerable position. If you disclose crucial information without the agreement, you risk losing your rights to the invention (as well as the ability to file a patent if it is considered a “public disclosure under new “first-to-file” rules). If you don't disclose it, you risk losing a business opportunity.
How Intellectual Property Law Applies to Inventions: Under trade secret law, if you reveal your secret to the public, you lose your rights to the secret. In other words, once you've disclosed the secret, you can no longer claim that you own exclusive rights to it.
There are a few ways to establish a confidential relationship with an entity to be able to disclose your idea without risking your business. Just make sure to take the time to do all the necessary research before taking any other type of action.
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