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Protecting Intellectual Property

Hi all,

I have an idea for an improved technology that I’d like to develop, but before I do, I want to protect my IP (I may market this as a commercial product, or release it as open source, I haven’t yet decided).  What’s the best way for an individual to go about protecting their IP?  Are there any free or inexpensive services?  Can a person guide themselves through a patent submittal process without legal counsel?

Thanks :-)

P. Cuff
Wednesday, July 7, 2004

The only way to protect your idea is:

1. Patent it if it's unique

2. Never tell anybody about it without an iron-clad NDA (unless it's your retained lawyer... they don't sign NDAs).

But that seems obvious. Were you looking for something more clever?

Brad Wilson (
Wednesday, July 7, 2004

Post your ideas here.  We'll help guard your secrets.

Wednesday, July 7, 2004

It depends on what you are trying to do.

Most ideas aren't actually very unique and it's not the idea itself, but the implementation and hard-work centered around realizing them that's the real value.  Part of the reason why IP laws are so sticky is because folks often times ascribe too much importance to the idea.

So you really need to ask yourself if what you are cooking up is actually patentable.

The rest of it is mostly a matter of confidentiality, which should not be mistaken with traditional pieces of intellectual property (copyrights, trademarks, and patents).

In a very real sense, patents and trademarks give you protection in return for confidentiality. If you patent your idea, everybody knows about it, so the clock is ticking for you to take advantage of them.  Think of Transmeta -- everybody figured that they'd be working on an x86 compatable processor because of their patent filings.

Now, assuming that your idea is just good, but not necessarily worthy of a patent, your main goal is stealth for as long as possible.  Which means that, unless somebody needs to know about your project, they shouldn't.  If you need to talk to somebody in specific terms, you want them to sign an NDA.

Now, the thing is, most NDAs do not protect a company from "stealing your idea".  This is an important point.  They may have already thought of your idea on their own, or they may eventually develop it without the person who knows about it saying anything.

This is especially evident with media properties like video games and movies and TV.  Most professional writers hire folks to open their mail for them so that they cannot be accused of stealing any ideas that were sent to them.

Which now brings us to why a company would want to actually pay you instead of stealing the idea and doing it themselves.  You have already written the product, whereas they haven't, which means that they will be more than glad to pay you the same amount of money that they estimate it would take them to also implement the idea and how much it would cost them to take you out.

Which really means that the name of the game is to not deal with potential competition unless you have a position of power (i.e. you've got it done already) or something. 

Now, what about the stuff you actually create like code and documentation and stuff?  Well, back when Congress made some intelligent changes to copyright law instead of being the lap-dog of the movie and music industry, they fixed that problem for you.  Your stuff is protected the second it's fixed in physical form.  The only real quirk is that if you have anybody else working on stuff, you need to clarify the nature of the agreement and who actually owns what is produced.  If you want to be extra-careful, you want to register a copyright on your code with the government.

Flamebait Sr.
Wednesday, July 7, 2004

Patents don't protect software ideas, they're defensive measures used by large organisations, its extremely expensive to apply for a patent and then to maintain it.

NDAs are not enforceable without a contract, if there's no contractual relationship then there's no duty on a third party to protect your secrets or ideas.  That;s just life.  You can push them under people's noses if you like but don't be surprised if they don't sign them, if they aren't officers of the corporation its likely they'd be worthless even if there was a contractual relationship.

But you do have copyright, look and feel and sales descriptions.

Your code is your copyright, your ideas, if they aren't in actual code or product form are still copyright if they're transmitted in any form which can be reproduced.  This includes speech if recorded. 

If you're entering into negotiations with someone over the rights to produce derivative products of your own ideas then you can record (openly) all such meetings and include those recordings if you need to claim previous art at any time.

Look and feel covers more than just umm the look and the feel.  If its a process then it covers how that process is managed, perceived and identified as yours as opposed to anyone elses process that might achieve similar things.

Sales brochures, fliers, letters, email, whatever; they are all copyrighted to their originator and they're all evidence of the USPs of your product, its claims and its identity.

But there's always this to remember.  You are the little guy, for every inventor of clockwork radios, cats eyes or workmate that do get a reasonable deal and continually receive royalties on licences there are hundreds of thousands of inventors and developers who had good ideas but couldn' implement them or if they did couldn't sell them.

But if you have an idea, flaunt it.

Simon Lucy
Wednesday, July 7, 2004

"Most ideas aren't actually very unique and it's not the idea itself, but the implementation and hard-work centered around realizing them that's the real value."

AMEN brother !!


I highly recommend you see: LONGITUDE

It's the story of the guy who invented the maritime clock.
He spent 40 years trying to get it patented because he was worried about his intellectual property. He could have just SOLD the damn thing and been rich.

You can waste a lot of time worrying about how you'll protect this wonderful idea.  And never have the time to implement it.

And remember.... you may have to go through 5 or 10 ideas before you find the one that works. If you spend a lot of effort protecting them, you might never get to the magic one that works.

Mr. Analogy
Wednesday, July 7, 2004

its incredible how many people who want to restrict the use of *their* ideas and knowledge still expect others to provide assistance and advice gratis.

Go visit a lawyer you greedy, selfish, cheap bastard.

Wednesday, July 7, 2004

It is additionally funny when everyone thinks *their's* is a wonderful, great idea that all others would try to steal!...

Thursday, July 8, 2004

Ideas are a dime a dozen. It's successful implementations that count. Your best bet is to spend time implementing the product, not worrying about how someone might steal something that doesn't even exist yet. Slap a copyright notice on the source code and splash screen and get working.

If you really insist on spending time on this kind of thing, you might take a look at materials from Nolo ( They have a lot of do-it-yourself legal guides that are pretty informative.

Oh, one thing: If you are employed by someone, re-read anything you signed, since some companies have draconian IP policies that basically say they get rights to anything you create, whether you use their equipment and are on the clock or not. Either way, definitely don't do any work on your project on the company's time or equipment if you want to avoid any possible encumberances.

John C.
Thursday, July 8, 2004

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