How to Protect Your New Invention Idea


You’re a new entrepreneur with a groundbreaking idea that you believe could turn you into a multi-millionaire. Naturally, you would be extremely excited and want to tell your friends, family, and co-workers about it right away. But should you?

The answer is a definite no—at least, not without taking the necessary precautions. Think about it: your idea is your business, your future capital. The more you talk about it, the more chances there are of someone copying your idea and getting it out onto the market before you do. It’s always been hard to keep ideas under wraps, but it’s even more difficult in the age of the Internet.

You will eventually have to tell someone though. Even Bill Gates didn’t create Microsoft alone. He worked alongside and bounced ideas off people. To succeed, you will have to reveal your idea to other parties repeatedly. While it’s okay to be cautious, it’s important not to isolate yourself as you could inhibit the creative process.

When expressing this concern, something you’ll likely be told is that people don’t want to steal your idea. Your everyday person would face the same difficulties getting the invention market-ready as you are, while million-dollar investors don’t want to deal with the negative press that comes with patent infringement.

There’s always the chance that a million-dollar powerhouse company will copy your idea, leaving you in the dust. To prevent that from happening, you need to protect yourself. Here’s how you can do it.

Getting a Patent

The first thought that a budding entrepreneur has is to file a patent. But there’s an important myth that needs to be dispelled before you proceed.

Many people think that you can patent ideas, but unfortunately, you cannot. Intellectual property laws can’t protect your ideas from being used by others. In fact, you can’t really protect an idea all that well.

What intellectual property law can protect is your invention. Turning your idea into an actual prototype is the first step you need to take to protect it. After all, we have ideas every single day, but what differentiates us is the will to act. If it was possible to patent ideas, people would inevitably sit on hundreds of patents and never act on them, forcing others who would love to put in the legwork to give up or pay them for patent rights. This would be a detriment to innovation.

Patents are Expensive

It’s expensive to patent your invention. Many would-be inventors hit this roadblock and aren’t able to overcome it, which is unfortunate because there are a few things you can do to mitigate the damage.

Patenting your idea can take years and cost thousands of dollars, sometimes well over $15,000—you can see why not everyone does it. Many people try to lower the cost by cutting corners. Included in the fee is a patent search, the goal of which is to reach 80% certainty that your patent is unique. Some inventors choose to skip this, which is a bad choice. You could find yourself in murky waters, possibly infringing on someone else’s patent. At the very least, a search strengthens your patent.

Unless you have excess income or have faith that your invention is going to be a hit, you probably shouldn’t patent any old idea.

The Poor Man’s Patent

This is a fallacy that you should not buy into. Under no circumstances does the “poor man’s patent” offer any protection.

The idea behind the poor man’s patent is this. You throw a document that you’ve drafted detailing your invention into the mail. Instead of mailing it to the patent office, you send it to yourself. You keep the envelope sealed, and the date on the envelope proves the date that you came up with the idea.

This doesn’t work for many reasons. Like I mentioned, you cannot patent an idea—you can only patent an invention. Also, in the United States, there’s a “first to file” system of patenting that makes it so that whoever correctly files their patent first owns it.

Provisional Patent Application

Patent’s cost thousands of dollars in attorney fees and take awhile to process. Fortunately, not all is lost. If you can’t afford to file a nonprovisional patent application just yet, the alternative is to file a provisional patent application. A provisional patent application lasts for 12 months and is substantially cheaper. With one, you’ll have 12 months to finalize your invention, test the market, and ultimately decide if it’s an idea you want to pursue. This makes it an infinitely better option for just about everyone, but especially for start-ups and independent entrepreneurs.

You’re able to file a provisional patent application while working on your invention. Without CAD models or a 3D rendering, and sometimes even without a finished prototype, you can file. From the date you file, you have a year to get your engineers and designers together to pump out your finished product. It’s important to note that once you file a nonprovisional patent application, you can no longer add new material to the patent.

Protecting Your Idea from Others

No entrepreneur can take their idea from a mere concept to a finished product on their own. You’ll have to enlist the help of an engineer, lawyers, and designers. It goes without saying that you’ll inevitably tell friends and family out of pure excitement. No one can keep the lid on a secret for too long, after all. But here’s one crucial tip:

Do not tell anyone until you’ve filed a provisional patent application.

I also highly recommend you resist telling friends and family as best you can. The only people who need know about your idea are the business partners’ you choose to work with and your patent attorney.

Despite what you tell yourself, you don’t need to have informal conversations about your idea. All informal discussions risk opening the market window.

Market Window

All products have a market window. It’s a five-year period that begins when consumers first hear about the product. If you so happen to mention your idea on social media and generate interest, the window is open.

The window refers to consumers feelings toward a product. When you first hear of something, it’s new and exciting. But as time goes on, excitement dwindles—nothing can sustain the buzz. You definitely don’t want to have this window open before your finished product is ready to hit the market. What’s worse is if you generate interest in your product and it isn’t ready, a more well-to-do business may create it quicker, leaving you wondering what happened.

How to Discuss Your Idea Safely

First of all, trust your gut feeling. Be wary of deals that seem too good to be true, and if you have an inkling that someone does not have your best interests in mind, they probably don’t. Use your better judgment before deciding to confide in someone. Trust me, you’ll know when something’s fishy.

You should do your research into any partners you’re considering confiding in. Make sure to only get into business with people who are reputable, trustworthy, and have a good track record. A deal gone bad could leave you reeling for a while, unable to pick up the pieces.

NDAs and Copyrights

Since you will have to disclose your idea to numerous people, it’s a good idea to get them to sign an NDA. An NDA is a non-disclosure agreement—it’s an agreement that whoever signs it is bound to secrecy. If they do break the NDA, you can pursue them with the full weight of the law.

Unfortunately, people who really want to steal your idea will find a way to do so. NDAs are not foolproof, so it’s important to still use caution when deciding who to work with. You should get any family members, business partners, and lawyers you deal with to sign an NDA.

A copyright, on the other hand, is not a patent in any way and does not protect your idea. However, you can include a TM or copyright mark on any documents you draft as a deterrent. If someone sees that you’ve copyrighted something, they are less likely to try to rip it off.

Don’t Let Fear Stop You

While there are a lot of ways to find yourself in trouble, the fear of having your idea stolen should not inhibit your drive to create. While you should be cautious about sharing your idea before it’s patented, sometimes you must.

Your idea alone is not worth much, so you need to start working on it. You could be missing opportunities to better your idea by prohibiting yourself from collaborating with others. A big part of the creative process is getting feedback and using it to better the creation. If you’re afraid to work with people, your creativity will stagnate, and your product may hit the market unprepared.

At Cad Crowd, we offer patent services to assist you. We can help you take the necessary steps to protect your idea and prepare yourself for the future. If you’re looking for more information on patents, our patent FAQs should help. Feel free to send us a message for more information and a quote!