Staples | Selling an Idea

Selling an Idea

Let's say that you have a great business idea or invention and that you want to sell it to some company. How should you go about doing so? The first thing to remember is that when you have an idea or invention, you need to keep it strictly confidential and not reveal it to anyone, with the following exceptions:

When to share your idea

  1. You can show the invention (or share the idea) directly to a licensed patent attorney.

  2. You may also need to show or tell someone besides your attorney about it (an investor for example.) That is OK, provided they first sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) or sign as a witness your disclosure describing the invention.

  3. Finally you can disclose the idea or invention to the United States Patent and Trademark Office via the Disclosure Document Program (DDP) or a Provisional Patent Application (PPA).

Will it sell?

Now, once you have learned to keep the idea secret, ask yourself whether the idea or invention is commercial — is there a market for it? Somebody has to be willing to pay money for your plan. If so, your next step is to make a written, signed, dated and witnessed record of the conception of the invention, and also the building and testing of it if you have gone that far. Having that will help ensure that no one steals your idea.

File a patent

Once you have documented your idea or invention and are convinced that it is commercial, the next step is to file for a patent on it. Without a patent, or at least a patent application, no one will look at what you are offering.

A patent application is a detailed description of your invention with drawings, some claims (legal descriptions of your invention), a filing fee (currently $345) and forms to sign. Only after you have done all of this should you submit your idea to companies you feel could manufacture and sell your creation successfully.

You may find that because many such companies have been sued before, they will refuse to sign any sort of NDA and will actually require you to sign a waiver before they look at anything of yours. The waiver requires you to give up all your rights, except those protected under the patent laws. That's why you must have a patent application filed first.

When to get a business lawyer

Finally, if someone does like your idea or invention, you will need to hire a business lawyer to either draft the contract for sale, or review the contract given to you.

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