How can you, an individual inventor, protect your invention from being ‘ripped off’ by someone else or by some company? And how can you protect yourself while explaining your idea to the company that you hope will manufacture your invention?
The ultimate protection, of course, is the status of ‘patent pending’. Note that I did not say ‘patented’. A patent protects a very specific device or process, set forth in the patent claims. Once the patent is granted, someone wishing to make a similar device or process can look at the patent claims and ‘work around’ those claims to avoid infringing the patent. During the patent application process (patent pending), the application is kept secret, and a potential infringer is left in doubt as to what the extent or strength of the issued patent will be. Few persons are willing to risk tens of thousands of dollars in tooling, advertising, marketing and production of an item that might result in lawsuits, penalties and royalties being paid to another. This means that the very best time to begin production on a new item is during the ‘patent pending’ phase. Of course, the run-up to production, the time when final designs, engineering and tooling are produced occupy a significant time all by themselves, hence it is well that the manufacturer-to-be is consulted from the beginning, often before the actual patent application process is begun.
In order to protect the inventor’s interests, a Letter of Confidentiality, Non-Disclosure or a Confidentiality Agreement may be signed by both inventor and manufacturer. You can go here to obtain a non-disclosure agreement. Your manufacturer should be glad to sign this type of agreement prior to your disclosing to him anything about your idea.