Instructables

Invention without a patent, what happens if someone steals it??

Ok, I've got a really cool invention. My oldest boy came up with the idea like 6 years ago. I can't afford to patent it. If I used the idea in an instructable, would the date on the ible help prove that the idea was ours? (Or would it just prove how stupid I am by letting the "cat out of the bag"?) I don't mind other people making their own, that's what Ibles are about. I just don't want someone to run patent it, and then commercialize it unfairly.

you could... just change the license and post it! do what eric says let the EVIL MEGA CORPORATION take the idea... at least you can have the pride in knowing that your own son came up with such a great idea that others became jealous... plus, you can have your own anyways...
Kiteman5 years ago
If the invention is that good, a patent would be a good idea. OK, it's hundreds of dollars, but compare that to any potential profit over the life-time of the product.

Personally, I would see if the US Patent Office could offer advice, or point you towards a lawyer who could help.

Even a "normal" lawyer could give you some advice. Maybe they could draft a non-disclosure agreement so that you could safely show your idea to potential manufacturers, and then you could enter into an agreement with a suitable manufacturer, although you may have to give up some of the rights to your idea.
skunkbait (author)  Kiteman5 years ago
Yep, I was thinking it was more like several THOUSAND. I've used the non-disclosure statement before (effectively), but.... I may try to approach the patent office. If I could get it for less than $1000, I can come up with that. But if I have to pay a lawyer several thousand, I'd starve before the returns seeped in.
If you have a friend who's a lawyer or even a decent relationship with your lawyer then you might be able to get a drafted up NDA in return for promising to sue them if your children commit crimes...
You may wish to make sure they don't commit crimes and get caught, otherwise you may still starve...
well THE MAN won't find out if they're out in the woods...
Ian M5 years ago
I don't quite understand the requirement that people don't "commercialize it unfairly," but if you publish it, nobody else can claim a patent for it. On the other hand that won't stop them from manufacturing or selling it if you haven't patented it. Personally, I would recommend not patenting it, just because it's a hassle and I don't think it's worthwhile to stop people from commercializing an idea. Unless you're going to commercialize the idea, then go for it.
skunkbait (author)  Ian M5 years ago
Well, I could capitalize on it later. It's really not an everyday item. It's got hunting, military and law enforcement applications. There would be only limited applications for your everyday do-it-yourselfer.
Start saving for a patent, but there is a minimal hold type thing to help. It's called first use rights. This proves the idea was yours but doesn't quite protect it. There is still a fee, but it is much less than a patent.
westfw5 years ago
If I used the idea in an instructable, would the date on the ible help prove that the idea was ours?
Yes. At least in theory. "Publishing" an invention's details should prevent someone else from patenting it or otherwise "stealing" it. The "in theory" part comes because I'm not sure that it has been legally established that putting something on a web site is equivalent to publishing it, and because in the end the "your-ness" of an invention only goes as far as you're able to defend your invention in court (which would be "not very", if you can't afford the patent in the first place.)

I have mixed feelings. I think it's relatively unlikely for someone to steal your invention from a published source like instructables; if they're really wanting to sell your invention, it's probably cheaper to make a deal with you than to risk later court battles. And I'm not fond of people who get patents and then sit on them waiting to charge other people money...
Kiteman westfw5 years ago
The problem would be proof - there have been many cases where small inventors have had ideas stolen because they have been unable to prove that the thieves produced "their" (probably slightly different) idea after seeing the inventor's idea.

A well-worded patent, though, would cover not just the exact idea, but any reasonable variations thereof.
westfw Kiteman5 years ago
Ah. AFAIK, a patent is the only thing that prevents someone else from having the same basic idea that you had, and doing it slightly better, slightly different, and making a lot more money from it than you did. Even for major inventions like Radio and the Airplane, there was a lot of parallel development and working devices appeared several places (nearly) at once. This is probably one of the basic flaws of the current patent system; you're not supposed to be able to get a patent for something that is "obvious to someone versed in the field", but that's rather tricky to define, and patents are regularly issued for stuff that high-school students re-invent on their own...
skunkbait (author)  westfw5 years ago
That's funny. I "re-invented" the Martingale gambling system. I sold the concept for a large sum. Then it was pointed out to me that it was already done. I gave the money back. BTW- I'm not a fan of gambling, but I do have a slight obsession with numerical systems.
But is not the only protection a patent really offers is the "right to sue"? A small entity would be bankrupted trying to sue a corporation regardless of patent. Perhaps the best route would be a provisional patent and spend that 12 month period finding an investor.
Things like LED Throwies are now made commercially...It's not as much of a patentable idea or anything, but i'm willing to bet they got the idea from the internet.
ewilhelm5 years ago
When you publish and idea on a public forum, you still have a year to patent the idea in the US. My advice is to always share your ideas because you are more likely to get useful feedback and opportunities than if you keep everything secret.

I've written about this a couple of times:
http://www.instructables.com/community/Davison-and-being-an-inventor/
http://www.instructables.com/community/Open-source-Hardware-License---creative-commons-li/
http://www.instructables.com/community/The-Copyright-FAQ-for-Knitters/
skunkbait (author)  ewilhelm5 years ago
Eric, thanks for your thoughts on this. It's a great idea (in it's context), and I hate for it not to get some exposure.
Reserve all the rights to it by changing the license.
KentsOkay5 years ago
My grandad says you can file without a lawyer, I was starting down the road of patenting an aroma-alarm clock when I found one already...
guyfrom7up5 years ago
I'm not sure, but when you publish it you can use a non-commercial publish license or something like that