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First to File

Idea Theft

Inventor's Notebook





Trade Secret

Trade Dress

Goodbye DD

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Welcome to

First let me note that this information has now been made current with the 2011 Patent Law changes.

You have an idea that you believe might be valuable and naturally you want to protect it from theft. If it's an invention idea you immediately think of getting a patent--but to get a professional to do a solid patent for you could cost you $6,000. What to do? Maybe you've heard that in the US a person who is "first to invent" has the right to the patent for an invention. Just what rights does that give you and how do you ensure that? Or maybe you're more current and have heard that the USA is no longer a "first to invent" country but has now become a "first to file" country. What happens if someone hears about your idea and beats you to the patent office? This information will answer those questions and more.

But first, why is this site here? It's here to help you understand the game of inventing and help you avoid wasting as much as $495 to buy the same info provided here for free. I've seen, and you can find them on the internet, people selling "the secrets" of "patent riches" at prices from $24.95 (plus shipping) all the way up to $495 (by a patent agent no less). What are they selling you exactly? Usually they are providing the kernel of the game but not providing sufficient information for you to conclude you actually understand it--you have to take the next step and engage the author or their firm to help you get it right.

You don't need to engage me for anything else but you will discover if you follow some of the links on this site that I do sell a popular book for inventors with a 100% money back guarantee regardless of where you buy it. Since 2000 I have only had 2 people request refunds and it didn't appear that either one actually read the book. The guarantee is spelled out on the first page of the book and my complete contact information is provided. But, I want you to have all the "basic" information here so you can avoid the folks that will charge you for this freely available information and so that you can go into a business relationship with a patent practitioner or anyone fully armed and prepared to defend your own interests and so that you don't make a costly mistake under some half-knowledgeable impression of what "first to file" actually means.

Let me clue you right now though, I am not an attorney, but I have researched and checked my information fairly carefully so I believe it is all correct. If you find an error, please e-mail me at E-mail address image, click to e-mail or type in your e-mail program's 'To:' field. Also be very aware that I stick to the pretty general cases--there are a lot more specifics and exceptions and exclusions, etc., which means that if you have a very specific question for a specific situation you should seek the services of a solid, experienced Patent Agent (patents) or Intellectual Property Attorney (patents, copyrights, trademarks).

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Now for the bad news. It is not possible to "protect" an idea. That is correct. Except by never telling anyone your idea there is no legal protection for it and even then nothing will stop someone else from having the same idea. "Ideas" may be such things as a "toilet seat lifter," a "clock-radio," "ending war," or a business concept. So just what can you "protect." In the case of the "toilet seat lifter" you can patent your particular embodiment of the device. The same holds true for the "clock-radio." Of course you want your embodiment to be so simple that other conceivable embodiments will either "read on your claims" (defined later) or not be commercially viable against yours.

As far as the business concept, you might be able to patent the business process but others who could achieve the same result through a different, but not in it's essence equivalent, process would generally be free to do so. Think of fast food restaurant chains or franchises--you can start your own chain tomorrow. Also you need to be aware of how you would enforce your rights. Against infringing businesses that were fairly profitable, enforcement could be okay but take, for example, the fellow who patented a method for combing the hair that hides partial baldness (US patent 4,022,227). Even if he won a lawsuit against an individual practicing his method he couldn't even begin to recover the costs of the first hour of having an attorney start preparing the suit.

Well what about the "ending war" idea? I would hope you would want the world to have the idea for free but the best you could do would be to enforce the copyright on your particular expression of a rant against war or encouragement for peace. It would only be your particular "expression" that was protected but others would be free to express the idea their own way.

Now for the really bad news. No intellectual property rights actually "protect" you--they just let you "defend" your rights by, through the courts, legally attacking parties violating your rights. Generally it is NOT a CRIME for anyone to violate your intellectual property (patent, copyright, trademark) rights therefore the government will not enforce your rights for you, you must instigate a civil suit and play it through at your own expense and trouble. There are some situations where copyright violation is a crime but I do not believe there are any situations where patent infringement is a crime.

But there is good news too. The vast majority of people will honor your intellectual property rights when you have the evidence to support your claim. Use the menu at the right to look at specific topics covering both how to secure your rights as well as how to enforce them.


© Copyright 2002-2007 James E. White, All Rights Reserved

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