Once you've come up with an idea for a product or prototype, you may think that the difficult part of the process is complete. Unfortunately, you're incorrect. Protecting your invention will be one of the most difficult tasks you face as you attempt to bring your product to market. As you pitch your product and word begins to spread, it’ll be difficult to protect yourself if you don’t take the proper precautions along the way. Consider these three crucial steps and tips necessary to protect your invention.
Begin The Steps Of Filing A Patent
Believe it or not, the patent process takes many years to complete. Your product’s lifecycle will undergo many changes and updates in this time, which is why it's best to start the patenting process as soon as possible. According to the Department of Commerce, “Patents are issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. They give their owners the right to exclude others from making, selling, offering for sale, or importing an invention protected by the patent.” You should be aware of the following important terms and steps which can help you with the process of filing a patent.
Pre-filing – Before filing, perform a basic patent search to ensure a similar patent has not already been filed. Doing so can prevent you from wasting precious time on a product that you have no chance of producing.
File a Provisional Application – Although this doesn't grant you a patent, it grants you a filing date with the Patent Office and the ability to label your property as “patent pending.” A provisional application gives you another year to work on your product.
Patent Maintenance Fees – You’ll have to pay fees along the way to keep your patent. Be sure you pay these fees before your patent expires. Otherwise, others can begin producing your product without repercussions.
Use A Nondisclosure Agreement
Securing a patent is the best way to protect your invention. However, if you are unable to do so, requiring individuals to sign a nondisclosure agreement is an alternative way to provide protection. Even if you can secure a patent, nondisclosure agreements can provide an extra level of security and perhaps help you avoid a lengthy court battle as people are provided with a disincentive to share or steal your product.
Nondisclosure agreements typically stress the following elements –
What Can't Be Shared and What is Protected – You should clearly define what information is confidential. On the contrary, you should clearly define what is not being protected. If the information is not unique and was created without your involvement, then it should not be protected.
What You Expect of The Person Signing the Agreement – Typically, it is understood that you expect the signing party to not breach the agreement, induce others to breach the agreement, or induce others to illegally acquire the confidential information. You should still spell these terms out in writing to ensure everyone is of the same understanding.
How Long the Nondisclosure Lasts – You should clearly define how long you expect the nondisclosure to last. Obviously, you’ll want to the nondisclosure to last longer to give yourself enough time to complete the invention. Five years is the average length of nondisclosure in the United States.
If someone breaks their nondisclosure and causes you financial harm, you’ll be able to take them to court and collect damages. You should also understand what the other party expects from you. You may be asked or required to join a mutual nondisclosure agreement, which means the other party will be sharing confidential information with you as well. If you enter a mutual nondisclosure and use this information, you could be in serious trouble and sued for civil damages or patent infringement.
Be Wary About Who You Trust
It's sad to say, but money is a tremendous motivator. Trusting your best friends or even members of your family can prove regrettable if you have not yet secured a patent or required them to sign a nondisclosure. They may find the measures extreme, but they should be understanding of the fact that you’re protecting something you’ve placed a lot of time and energy into. Even if you feel as though you can trust them, sharing your secret with someone before you have protected your invention can prove very costly. They could steal your invention and pitch it as their own, leaving you completely out of luck.