Steps To Protect an Invention

If you have an invention, follow these guidelines to figure out whether it is eligible for patent protection:

  • Establish ownership for the invention. If you made the creation on your own, you are the owner by default. If you collaborated with others, however, you need to reach an understanding about ownership. An agreement about these rights is an essential part of protecting your invention.
  • Determine whether your idea qualifies for a patent. It must serve a purpose without replicating any invention already in existence.
  • Have employees and stakeholders involved in the creation of your invention sign non-disclosure agreements so that investors, contractors, and potential customers won't reveal its details to others who may capitalize on your work.
  • Contractors, employees, and others who know about the invention should also be required to sign non-compete agreements. This prevents a third party from starting a similar business and benefiting from your invention. Some non-compete agreements have a geographic or time limit attached.
  • Use a work-for-hire agreement if you require outside assistance to complete your invention. Even if a third party helps build it, you will retain ownership rights.

Documenting the Invention Process

Every inventor should have a notebook that is exclusively used to keep track of his or her ideas and information about the invention. This can be an important legal tool if your ownership of the invention is ever challenged in court.

This can consist of a simple spiral bound notebook, with pages that can't be removed and replaced again. This allows you to create a chronicle of your progress, including plans, ideas, conversations with others, and potential business contacts associated with the invention. Make sure to date every page, particularly when recording a conversation with a potential manufacturer or engineer. This will provide important proof if someone tries to steal your idea. If someone else is inventing the same idea at the same time without knowledge of your creation, the notebook can be used to establish your active development of the product.

Date every entry and avoid backdating, which can call the accuracy of the notebook into question. Date and initial any corrections that must be made. Do not erase; instead, draw a line through portions that must be removed while leaving this material readable. Do not skip or remove pages. Keep all your notes in a single notebook.

Every week have two trusted individuals with knowledge of the invention and industry who are not related to you sign and date the notebook to attest to its accuracy and to confirm the signature and date on any changes that were made since the last signature.

Organizing Your Notebook

At the beginning of the book, comprehensively describe the idea for your invention. Indicate its main function and record the process of creating the item and your inspirations along the way. Talk about the problems the invention solves and how it works. You may also want to use this space to brainstorm potential names for the invention.

Even if you don't consider yourself an artist, you might also want to include a sketch of your invention. This is not only important to enter into the record but will also be a tool to communicate with a product developer or engineer you hire during the prototyping stage.

Thoroughly describe the product's unique qualities and features, as well as its benefits. How will it help your target customer? Indicate whether the invention is completely new to the marketplace or improves an existing invention with distinguishable features and benefits. Listing competitors might be useful here.

Provide information about your target customer. You should keep this person in mind throughout the development, market research, sales, and advertising phases of your invention.

When recording conversations with others about your invention, write down the date and time of the conversation, the name of the person you had it with and their potential role in the process, and a several-sentence summary of what you talked about. Continue documenting throughout the invention process to provide a foundation for your legal ownership of the idea.

If you need help with protecting your invention, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Stripe, and Twilio.