What doesn’t work at all well is (a) obsessive secrecy (especially if linked to some ‘they’re out to get me’ conspiracy theory), or (b) a demand for a huge sum of money before revealing even the smallest detail of your idea. Both these are dead-end tactics that will make it pretty much impossible for anyone to help you and will rapidly extinguish any interest from potential stakeholders.
What may work better is a strategy based on these guidelines:
- Work out exactly how much you can tell people without describing your inventive step, and stick to it. Revealing broadly what your idea is or does (‘It’s a kind of mousetrap’) may be safe; revealing how it does it (‘It uses a laser beam to zap the mouse’) is dangerous.
- Be diplomatic about your need to restrict disclosure. Try a helpful but firm stance along the lines of: ‘I’ll happily tell you as much as I can, but you’ll understand there’s a line we can’t cross without signing a confidentiality agreement’.
- Unless they’re trying to help you in confidence, be extra careful what you reveal to experts in your field of invention. They may only need one or two minor clues to figure out your inventive step.
- Use non-disclosure agreements even if you have patent protection. A patent protects only the information in the patent document and may not protect other aspects of your idea.
- Even after you’ve protected your idea, don’t accept any offer to publicise it until you’ve weighed up the disclosure risk. You may well need a patent attorney’s advice on this. For example, demonstrating your prototype on TV might generate commercial interest but it might equally amount to giving your idea away for nothing if your protection isn’t particularly strong. No matter how much patent or other IP protection you have, it’s never completely safe to stop being concerned about disclosure. At every significant step in the development of your idea, consider the disclosure risk and do what you can to minimise it.
Overall, while disclosure is something you need to take seriously right from the start, we think it’s important to keep the slightly different issue of legal protection in proportion – which is why it’s our Project 5. There may be an argument for making it your Project 3
or Project 4
, but please don’t put it ahead of Projects 1
and Project 2