Mums the Word: Non-Disclosure Agreements Are Crucial to Protecting Ideas

If you are an entrepreneur and you have the eureka moment when you experience the flash of brilliance that leads to your new product idea, what do you do?

Well, most people want to ask someone elses opinion about how whether, or not, the product will succeed in the marketplace. Asking advice from someone you trust is normally a good idea. When it comes to protecting your ability to patent your new product, it is still a good idea to get advice, but you need to use a simple tool called a non-disclosure agreement before you start the conversation.

Patents are only issued for novel ideas that have been reduced to practice and have not been disclosed to the public. Public disclosure can prevent a patent from being issued. One example of public disclosure is where a product is shown at a trade show. Showing a product at a trade show is considered to be an ?offer for sale? and thus public disclosure. A presentation of the product concepts, or underlying technologies, at a seminar could be considered public disclosure. A conversation about the product could also be considered public disclosure, depending on the situation.

Conversations with employees are not generally considered public disclosure.

One way to avoid this pitfall is to require a non-disclosure agreement before discussing your product. Non-disclosure agreements are commonly called NDAs. Non-disclosure agreements normally are one to five pages long. Their primary purpose is to agree, in writing, that the first party is going to disclose confidential information to another party, in exchange the other party agrees to not disclose the first partys confidential information. This agreement (when properly worded and executed) helps prevent the loss of patentability through public disclosure.

A sample NDA can be downloaded at

Montie Roland is President-Emeritus of the Carolinas Chapter of the Product Development Management Association. Roland is also President of Montie Design, a product development and prototyping firm in Morrisville, NC and the RTP Product Development Guild. You can reach Montie by email at: