Note: This is the second in a series on IP for Startups. To view previous articles please click here.
What is it? Divulging knowledge to a third party who is not obliged to maintain the secrecy of the knowledge. This can be done by posting information on Facebook®, Twitter®, LinkedIn® or via other social media; by launching a crowdfunding campaign such as Kickstarter®, by posting information on any website, in any form whatsoever. This also occurs when sending information to potential service providers to obtain cost estimates or the like.
Why is it important? Knowledge is power. Providing knowledge to someone who could potentially use this knowledge for his or her own benefit is giving your power away. It can also make it impossible for you to obtain patent protection for an invention which has been disclosed, unless a fully drafted patent application has been filed before public disclosure of the invention. An exception to this rule is in the United States, which provides a limited grace period of one year following the date of public disclosure during which a patent application can still be filed without harm from the disclosure.
When can we publicly disclose information relating to our invention? In order not to risk your ability to patent your invention, any disclosure should be made only after a first fully drafted patent application has been filed so as to establish priority rights under the Paris Convention. Even then, bearing in mind that knowledge is power and having a patent application does not give the right to take legal action against an infringer (this can be done only after the patent has been registered), you should be careful how you disclose the information.
JMB’s extra Q&A:
Q: Why do you keep mentioning a “fully drafted” patent application? I’ve heard that a Provisional application can be filed in the US Patent Office, and that it will give you a “priority right”, so why can’t I just go online and file a Provisional application that I have written?
A: You can write and file your own Provisional application, but that would be a bad idea. The reason that you need a fully drafted patent application is that your priority right is only as good as what you describe and show in the first application. If you make mistakes, miss out important features or try and describe them in a way which is unacceptable according to the relevant law and rules which govern what needs to be in a patent application, those mistakes cannot be corrected. So, if you file a first application which has not been drafted by a Patent Attorney (and will therefore almost certainly not be fully or properly drafted), and then publicly disclose your invention, you may also have given away your ability to patent your invention.
NB: Even if your application is fully drafted, you must not disclose an extension of your idea without first filing a new application for it as, by definition, it will not have been included in your original application.
Do you have questions about the above information? Are there subjects that you would like to hear about? Let me know!