A nondisclosure agreement and other basic agreements protect you before you start marketing your invention. With these basic agreements, you protect yourself against unauthorized use such as copying by manufacturers, retailers, and end users.
For example, the NDA and other basic agreements will protect you by forcing others to keep your invention secret as you ramp up to your product launch date. You need to tell manufacturers how to make your product. You need to hire designers. You need to hire attorneys. You need to put your product on store shelves or list them on Amazon. These agreements will help you to maintain the secrecy of the invention and also ownership of the invention through the product launch life cycle.
How to protect your invention immediately after you get your idea
As soon as you conceive your invention, you don’t need to file any documents to protect it. All you need to do is keep it as your trade secret. It should stay that way until you file your patent application. While you are ramping up for your product launch, you need to keep it secret and you do that through a nondisclosure agreement and other basic agreements, as discussed below.
Trade secret law protects secret valuable information. Upon conception, your invention is secret because only you know about it. It is presumably valuable too because – at least in theory – your invention solves a problem.
An NDA protects your invention when attracting investors
To protect your invention from investors, you should have them sign a nondisclosure agreement. This agreement prohibits them from telling others about your invention. They can’t use the information you give them for any other purpose than evaluating whether they are going to invest in your invention.
An Independent contractor agreement protects your invention when hiring engineers, designers, and manufacturers
When you hire engineers, designers, and manufacturers, a basic NDA will not work for you. These individuals will be solving problems for you and those solutions could be inventions that you want to get protected. As such, the agreements that they should sign should do more than just prevent them from telling others about your invention.
Agreements for these people should include other aspects such as an invention assignment clause and a copyright assignment clause. This agreement is referred to as an Independent Contractor Agreement. With this type of agreement, when they invent for you, you can incorporate their work into your patent application, if and when you do file one.
When you initially approach an engineer, design,er or manufacturer, they will not want to sign the independent contractor agreement because of the assignment clauses. In such cases, you can use the NDA agreement above. One of the terms of the contract should include execution of the Independent Contractor Agreement.
An NNN Agreement protects your invention when manufacturing your product in China
In China, you should get manufacturers and others to sign an NNN agreement. Nondisclosure, noncompete, and non-circumvention clauses are inserted into that agreement. The NNN Agreement is as common in China as a NDA is in the United States.
How to protect your invention when marketing
You are now ready to market your product. But before you do, you need to protect your invention from your competitors. You obviously don’t want them to steal your idea after all the hard work you put into it.
You should file a patent application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. If you get the patent and a competitor copies your product, you can sue them for patent infringement.