Ahhh…To patent or not to patent? – That is the question.
I couldn’t count the number of new inventors that start their story by talking about how they ran straight to a patent attorney the morning after they had this great epiphany of an idea they know will change the world as we know it.
In fact, this is so epidemic I wanted to take a moment to talk about ways to protect your new found innovation without spending a fortune on a device that often amounts to simply a very expensive stroke of your ego.
After all, if someone walked up to you with any other document that had your name on it and said “Pay me $10,000 and you can hang this on your wall” you would no doubt say No Thanks. But for some reason with a patent it’s different. Inventors always want to say “Yes” often ending up with the same net result.
So what other options do you have? Several
Nothing – you can do nothing. In fact nothing is a good option for many “inventors” simply because like a headache, the excitement of this new idea will eventually pass, and you can go back to watching that football game.
An Inventor’s Notebook – We did a post not long ago about the proper way to structure an inventor’s notebook so it will protect your idea in court. It’s not hard, very effective, and only about $3.99
A Copyright – In the US copyrights are automatic and their basic protection is FREE. In a nutshell, everything you develop in both 2D and 3D is automatically copyrighted the moment it is created. From your sketches, to your prototype, the protection is in place without doing a thing. That being said, we recommend you check with an attorney to ensure you are documenting things correctly, and evaluate the need to file a formal copyright on your particular project
A Non Disclosure Agreement – An NDA is a contract for secrecy. Very simply stated it contracts the signers into keeping secret the information provided each party. In the world of inventing it is often much more effective a protection than a patent. You see, a “patent application” is worthless in any effort to exercise your rights of protection. In fact, it’s often 3 or 4 years after your file date that you will enjoy any protection from your “awarded patent”, and even then only the level of protection you can afford to peruse in court. The reason a simple NDA is often more effective to an inventor is because once you have a well written NDA you can use it over and over at no cost. It also turns your innovation into a “trade secret” protected by the terms of the NDA and enforceable the moment it’s signed – not 3 or 4 years down the road. The party who signed your NDA could not rip you off without violating trade secret law and being subject to civil prosecution.
Now, please don’t get me wrong – Patenting a really great, commercially viable, and financially worthwhile innovation is sometimes a great idea - However, patenting an “Idea” that you don’t yet know to be commercially viable or financially worthwhile is often just a waste of your time and money.
As with all legal documents, we highly recommend you consult an attorney.