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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Have A Great Idea? Hold that Though!

Interacting with many entrepreneurs and inventors is rather interesting.  You learn a lot, but you also have to clean up many missteps.  One of the more common issues occurs with inventors.  Inventors often get excited about new ideas and they want to share their enthusiasm and have others be excited as well.  The timings of the discussions with others and the information relayed can lead to problems.  It does not matter whether the transmitted information comes from the entrepreneur, CEO, employee, or the institutional scientist.

Entrepreneurs often start companies with the technology originating from a university or government facility.  The institutional scientists creating the technology have goals that are not aligned with the newly formed company.  These scientists usually have to publish their work, speak at conferences, obtain grants, and/or interact with vendors.  This is how they are recognized and evaluated by their institution and their colleagues.

Scientists are enthusiastic by nature when it comes to their work or inventions.  They want to engage in discussions that may help them refine their ideas.  They also want to present the work of their research to others in a variety of ways.  In a few situations, this can be an issue, for example: 

·        Presenting information before filing patents, copyrights or other IP, may prevent the ability to protect the inventions or ideas.

·        Presenting to the wrong company may allow them to capture the ideas and claim it as their own. 

·        Finally, if the ideas are not to be patented, the relay of information eliminates the moat around your business that would be created by internal know-how.

There are correct ways to engage others and still attempt to protect your intellectual property.  It is extremely important that entrepreneurs learn these and relay the info to their scientists as soon as possible.  Otherwise, cleaning up the missteps will take very much of someone’s time.

A few ideas how to protect information:

·        Do not talk! – The best is keeping the idea quiet.  What others do not know will not hurt the company. 

·        Confidential Agreements – Develop confidential agreements and have them in place before speaking with those outside the company.  Hopefully, all the company staff and management have the confidentiality clauses in their contracts.

·        File IP before interacting – There are filings and invention disclosures your counsel can do prior to that special conference, meeting or other event.  Invention disclosures lead to Provisional Patents that will help protect the inventions.  

·        Identify other alternatives by speaking with your counsel.

In short, when you get that great idea, keep it to yourself until you figure how to protect it.