How to Disclose an Invention Without a NDA
Peter asked us a question familiar to all inventors:
"My invention does not have a lot of hidden secrets. If I tell people what it is, most people in this industry would be able to go away and figure out how to do it themselves. I have taken out a provisional application for a patent on it. If the companies I approach are not prepared to sign an NDA which helps to protect me from them stealing my idea, what can I tell them in the initial approach?"
We call this the Catch-22 of inventing and have an article that offers imperfect answers here.
Since that article we've developed the Inventicator to provide another way of talking about inventions without disclosing the ingredients of your secret sauce. If you use the Inventicator to benchmark a current product of your target licensee and then inventicate your invention you'll be able to add an interesting and possibly tempting bit of information in an introductory email. Visit the Inventicator here.
Now, with the preliminaries out of the way, here's a point by point response to Peter's question:
1. My invention does not have a lot of hidden secrets. If I tell people what it is, most people in this industry would be able to go away and figure out how to do it themselves.
That's true for most inventions. When you describe the problem your invention solves, a company can likely find a way to create a solution for that problem without you (identifying unsolved or unknown problems is often the most valuable thing independent inventors bring to licensees). Inventions that have the best chance of success are ones where the inventor has created (and patented) the lowest cost way of manufacturing the best performing solution (here's an example).
2. I have taken out a provisional application for a patent on it.
It's likely that your provisional doesn't cover the optimum solution. That solution is usually discovered in the course of engineering a product for manufacturing and/or otherwise perfecting it after testing with a prototype.
3. If the companies I approach are not prepared to sign an NDA which helps to protect me from them stealing my idea...
NDAs all have a barn door sized loophole known as "prior art". If your idea can be found in prior art then you are not really protected. However, reputable companies will almost always make real efforts to avoid violating anything that can be legitimately be claimed in patent.
4. What can I tell them in the initial approach?
Great things to tell them are survey results, comparisons to existing known products and anything that reinforces your credibility as an inventor. Showing that you understand the inventing process, professional experience, education and past successes are all helpful. Also, showing an understanding of their business and how your invention will make them money (or make their life easier) is worth a lot - provided it's done from a business perspective and is not just boastful bragging (BTW - the most you should ever assume in terms of market share for a new product is 10%).
In the end, after we've done the best job we can on a provisional patent, we believe in feeling the fear and disclosing the idea straight up. We don't mess around because no one has any time. We provide a short 1 minute video and a short pitch in text. Then we hope for the best.
One thing Invention City offers to inventors is established relationships with numerous potential licensees and credibility based on our 25+ years of success (and failure).
A Brutally Honest Review is a great way for inventors get meaningful advice on invention ideas - there might even be the offer of a licensing deal.
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