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Ownership of ideas after a contest? Answered

If you submit your idea in an instructables contest, does the idea-owner remain the idea-owner, or do you give the organizing party (or sponsor) the right to commercially exploit you design?

I didn't find anything about IP in the terms of agreement on a first quick scan, but wanted to be sure.

Also, can you enter with a design that's also (already) commercially sold (by yourself as the idea-owner)?




Best Answer 3 years ago

You are actually asking about 2 different things here, which is good because it can be confusing.

The first would be about copyright. The copyright always remains with you with the Instructables web site. This is not true of other web sites like Facebook. On Facebook any picture, and I believe also text, that you place on the site becomes the property of Facebook. With Instructables it always remains yours. In addition if they do wish to republish any of your items in something like a book they will contact you and ask for your permission. As far as other people using your images or text those permissions are set in the license that you specify on publication of each instructable. Copyright laws apply to the text and photos but NOT to the actual creation, (invention might be a better word). If you MAKE something physically, that is protected by a patent. So if you came up with a better mousetrap, that design would be able to be patented, but the copyright would apply only to the description.

Now, what is interesting about this is that your publishing an article about your invention, especially with pictures and working models, would be considered proof that you had this concept and the date that you had it. EVEN if you don't file for a patent this is legal proof that it is your idea. This will not prevent a company from reading your idea and then making their own version of it, BUT it will give you the right to sue them for taking your idea without your permission or compensation. If the invention is very sucessful and they make a lot of money on it the court would require them to compensate you (after proving that it is your invention) and further they would not be allowed to patent it but instead the patent would be awarded to you as the creator. So publishing an idea through instructables gives you legal proof and documents that the idea is yours, which then establishes ownership of those ideas even if they are not patented.

Does that help?

The second part of this is no longer true. Under the old system what you wrote would have been correct, by proving you had the idea first you have the rights to the patent but that has recently changed (in the US). Now it's first to file, regardless of when either party can document first having made the invention.

This was done to protect home inventors or small business invention by assuring them that once they have filed for a patent they don't have to worry about a bigger company with huge legal budgets coming in and finding a way to steal the patent. The down side is that you have to be proactive about filing for patents, so in a situation like a contest here you run the risk of someone else using your Instructable as a guide to patent your invention unless you file first. Basically the rule of thumb is if you can make more from selling your invention, as a simple patent or product, than the prize is worth you should hold off until you've filed for the patent.

Hello Vyger,

Thanks for this reply, this is very helpful.
When designing, I always license my ideas under a Creative Commons license to insure it can be widely spread without being used for commercial use (in theory).

Just wanted to be sure that entering a instructables contest didn't transfer copyright and licensing (which does happens in a lot of contests like e.g. James Dyson award, or content on Facebook).



3 years ago

I believe, that this is what the licence choice when publishing the 'ible (or default choice) is for. You can pick anything from Public Domain, to full Copyright.

You should still read the Instructables TOS though.