Is my invention protected?
Inventors call Colorado based patent attorney Mark Trenner all the time and ask “is my invention protected?” The first question I ask is “what have you done to protect your invention?” Often, the inventor answers, as expected, that they have done nothing to protect their invention. At least, they have not taken any legal steps to protect their invention. And if an inventor has not taken any legal steps to protect their invention, they really haven’t done anything at all to protect their invention.
There are two basic ways to protect an invention. An inventor can keep their invention secret. This is typically known as trade secret protection. Trade secret protect is inexpensive, in fact, nearly free. All that is required is that the invention be maintained in secret. Of course, I say “nearly free” because there may be some expense associated with a safe to keep the invention locked up, stamps which can be purchased at the local business supply store to mark everything as confidential if the inventor is going to show their invention to someone under a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) or confidentiality agreement, and the cost to have an attorney prepare a solid NDA to use.
The “free” or “nearly free” aspect may seem very appealing to some inventors. But unless the invention can be maintained in secret forever, this isn’t likely a good option for protecting the invention. That is because as soon as an invention is made available to the public, the invention can no longer be protected by trade secret law.
So for things like a favorite recipe (think about the recipe for your favorite soda), trade secret protection may be a viable option. But for most inventions that can be unassembled and reverse engineered, trade secret law does not offer any protection. Keeping these types of inventions locked up in your safe provides no benefit to society (or to the inventor financially).
Instead, the inventor should consider patent protection. An inventor can only claim patent protection for an invention which has been filed as a patent application in the US Patent Office. So back to the original question “is my invention protected,” the answer depends on whether the inventor has received an issued patent from the Patent Office. If not, then the inventor should waste no time contacting a patent attorney to discuss filing a patent application with the Patent Office.