As an executive, when you seek advice from a lawyer you usually ask the following question: “Who can I talk to about my project?” You indeed need to get insightful feedback in order to know whether or not your idea is worth materializing.
That’s why you want to know how to protect your idea. You are then dumbfounded when you hear the answer: an idea cannot be patented. You then enquire: “Really? Not even if the idea is really original?” No! An idea can never be protected.
If you cannot protect an idea (or a concept, a project or a piece of information), it is however possible to protect the materialization of your idea, if it is new. Practically, you must find a support: a piece of writing, an object, an illustration, a jingle, even a sand castle, an unfinished piece of work, a speech etc.
KEEP IN MIND that
It is only the materialization of your idea that can be protected if it is original.
Before you have the end product and while your idea is being materialized thanks to different partners, what would your counsel’s advice be?
In a perfect world, we would give you and anybody you come in contact with a non-disclosure agreement (an NDA) to sign. More often than not you are at a loss, and rightly so, as that would mean making all your neighbors, friends and future associates sign. You would then the proud leader of a one-man army.
An NDA is, bar none, the best protection there is.
However if this is not an option, we advise you to:
- Deposit a “Soleau” envelope with the INPI (the French National Institute of Industrial Property) with everything you have materialized so far. To do that, you need to order the envelope from the INPI. It isn’t expensive (about 15 euros per envelope), and it can save you a lot of money. In case of a dispute the envelope can be used to prove the date of creation.
- Send an email. After an appointment with a third party, send him an email recapping any knowledge that you have communicated to him, without telling him your “secret”. Should a conflict occur, you’d be able to prove that you have given such piece information at such a date. At the bottom of your email, add a disclaimer stating that the information included in the email and the attachments is confidential.
- State that the documents are confidential. All you documents should be marked “Confidential”.
- Sign an NDA. It remains the best solution: we can help you in the process.
There is a right balance between legal certainty and practical common sense, one that allows you to pursue your project while keeping your innovations secret.
TO KEEP IN MIND FOR A BETTER PROTECTION
- Deposit a Soleau envelope describing your project at the INPI,
- Send emails to partners summarizing the information given. Make sure to state in the email that the information is confidential,
- Any document that you send must be marked “confidential”,
- Sign a non-disclosure agreement.