Sometimes you may want to share your invention with people who might be interested in manufacturing or distributing it before you actually go through with the entire patent process. Other times, you may have an invention that cannot be patented but may still be commercially valuable. In these cases, you may want to take certain measures to make sure that no one steals your invention.

If I am Not Ready to Get a Patent, Can the Patent and Trademark Office Offer Me Any Other Kinds of Protection?

The USPTO wants to protect the rights of inventors, and so it offers several ways for inventors to protect their inventions before they are ready to apply for patents:

  • The Disclosure Document Program - You can file a description of your invention with the PTO as proof that you were the first to conceive of the idea.
  • Provisional Patent Application - If your invention is almost ready, but you would like to have a little more time before filing an actual patent, you can file a provisional patent application. If you file a regular patent application within a year, you can retain the PPA filing date.

Of course, neither of these options will offer the full scope of protection that a patent can provide. These options are best for people who want to protect their inventions in the period of time between conceiving the invention and patenting it.

What Forms of Legal Protection Are Available to Me if My Invention is Not Eligible for a Patent?

If your invention is not patentable, or if you do not want to go through the patent process, there are other ways available for protecting your invention.

  • Nondisclosure Agreements - You may be able to protect your invention by having people sign a nondisclosure agreement before you tell them about your invention. A nondisclosure agreement can legally bind a person to keep information you share confidential.

What Should I Do if I Can't Patent My Invention and Can't Get a Nondisclosure Agreement?

Sharing information about your invention without any sort of patent or written legal protection is very risky. However, there are certain measures you can take to protect your invention:

  • Try to establish a confidential relationship - If you and another person behave in a way that seems to indicate an intention to keep the disclosed information secret, you may be able to establish an "implied" confidential relationship. An implied confidential relationship will give you protection and rights similar to those created by a nondisclosure agreement.
  • Limit what you disclose - If you can't get protection, try to limit the information you give out. If possible, disclose only pertinent information, do not go into specifics about how your invention works or about how it is made.
  • Know who you're dealing with - If possible, limit unprotected disclosure to people or companies who are trustworthy and have good reputations.

Should I Talk to a Lawyer about Protecting My Invention?

If you have an invention and are concerned about protecting it, you should consider consulting an intellectual property lawyer. An experienced intellectual property lawyer will be able to tell you what kind of protection is available and what precautions you should take when sharing information about your invention.