To prevent an engineer from stealing your idea, you need to have them sign a nondisclosure agreement. The nondisclosure agreement requires the engineer to keep your idea or invention secret. If the engineer were to file a patent application, that’s a breach of the nondisclosure agreement because the patent application would eventually be made public. If they tried to commercialize your invention, then publicly marketing the invention would be a breach of the nondisclosure agreement.
Here is a link to an exemplary nondisclosure agreement.
Typically you’ll have the engineer sign the nondisclosure agreement before hiring them. This way, you can tell them about your idea under the cover of the nondisclosure agreement while they figure out a quote for the job.
Invention Assignment Clause
You want to own any additional ideas they come up with while they are working on your invention. These additional ideas might be included in your patent application. To own these ideas, you must include an invention assignment clause in the nondisclosure agreement. In this regard, the nondisclosure agreement is transformed into an independent contractor agreement. This type of agreement ensures that you own all of the additional ideas conceived by the engineer. Otherwise, you won’t be able to include your engineer’s ideas in your patent application. Under US patent laws, the person (i.e., engineer) who conceives of the additional ideas owns these additional ideas unless they are assigned to you.
Typically the engineer will not sign the independent contractor agreement when you start discussing the project with them. They won’t sign the independent contract agreement because it assigns their rights to you before you even hire them. The independent contract agreement is typically incorporated into the master contract as a condition of your engagement with the engineer.
Suppose you’re hiring the engineer as an employee, and not engaging them as an independent contractor. In that case, the nondisclosure agreement and the invention assignment clause should be a part of the agreements that the employee signs when they are onboarded into your company.
Do research on the engineer that you plan to hire
One of the best things that you can do before hiring an engineer to help you with your invention is to do a background check on the engineer.
- Google the person’s name to see if they’ve been involved in litigation. If so, then consider if they were acting in bad faith.
- Ask them for a resume or their curriculum vitae.
- Ask them for references that you can call and talk to them.
By doing a basic background check, you’ll see if they will honor the terms of the nondisclosure agreement or the independent contractor agreement.