section is in some sense a preliminary to
Part 5: Protecting your idea
. The dangers of
disclosure are real, and need to be taken seriously as soon as you start
thinking about your invention. But it is
important to understand that protecting
your idea against disclosure is not quite the same as protecting your idea against infringement.
your idea against disclosure depends largely on your own common-sense measures,
which you should take from the day you first think of your idea. Protecting
your idea against infringement depends largely on the correct use of formal
legal procedures when the time is right
to use them. This is why Parts 1-4 precede Part 5!
exception is Part
5 > Confidential
information and non-disclosure agreements, which it may be helpful
to read in conjunction with this section.)
Assessing the risk of
Disclosing an idea without
adequate legal protection is always dangerous. The main risks are:
- Someone may use knowledge
of your idea for their own gain - which usually means your loss.
- Disclosure now may prevent you from obtaining a
worthwhile patent later.
very earliest stages of an idea, the problem for many inventors is twofold:
- It is usually inadvisable
to apply too early for a patent. The timing of a patent application can be
critical - see Part
5 > The patenting process.
- Yet in order to make
progress with an invention, some disclosure may be unavoidable.
should you protect your idea in the early stages of its development?
risks fall broadly into two categories:
Disclosure to individuals during private meetings
This type of risk is
controllable as long as you take a few basic precautions, detailed below.
The dangers here are less obvious. Particularly problematic areas are:
Media publicity and competitions. Both may be useful after you have legally protected your
idea but definitely not before it.
originate as student projects -
especially if there is a requirement to exhibit or publish your work. Teaching
staff often do not understand that any form of public display of an idea
legally constitutes disclosure and can have serious consequences.
Who can you trust?
should be safe disclosing details of your idea to people whose professions
require them to observe confidence in all dealings with clients. This includes
patent attorneys, other legal professionals, EPO and national IP office personnel.
It should also include public servants such as business or technology advisers
and funding scheme administrators.
dealing with anyone else - companies in particular - you should disclose
nothing without at least (a) a signed non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and (b)
free forms of legal protection in place, such as copyright or unregistered
design right (detailed in
should try to avoid:
- Obsessive secrecy.
- A demand for payment
before disclosing any detail of your idea.
people will be willing or able to help you if you use such negative tactics.
- Before talking to
companies or individuals not bound by confidentiality (either a professional
code or a signed NDA), decide exactly how much you can tell them without describing
the inventive parts of your idea. Revealing broadly what it is (‘It is a novel mousetrap') may be safe; revealing what makes it novel is dangerous.
- The more you discuss the
technical aspects of your idea, the greater the risk of disclosing secrets. Try
instead to focus your presentation on the competitive
benefits of your invention: for example, ‘It is cheaper', ‘It is more
reliable', ‘It is easier to use'.
- Be diplomatic but firm
about your need to restrict disclosure. If the people you are talking to want
more detail from you, insist that they sign your NDA. If they refuse to sign,
walk away! Even if they do sign, disclose as little as possible.
if protected by an NDA, be very careful what you reveal to experts in your
field of invention. They may need only one or two small details to guess the unique features of your invention.