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8050 Washington Ave. S., Suite 100
Eden Prairie, MN 55344
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Several Essential Things To Do Before Submitting An Idea To A Company

Have a brilliant idea that you’re almost certain your favorite company would drool over?  Before you contact them with your idea, here are some things you should do to ensure that your rights are protected and that you’re treated fairly. 

  1. Contact an intellectual property attorney to see whether your idea is patentable.  General “ideas” or concepts are not patentable unless they are reduced to practice.  Patentable subject matter only includes any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof.  In order for an invention to be patentable, it must be novel and not obvious.  If your invention is patentable, it’s important that your rights in your invention are protected prior to any disclosure of your invention to the company.  You may want to discuss with a patent attorney whether and when you should file a patent application. 
  2. When first contacting the company about your idea, say little to nothing about your idea and ask for a confidentiality agreement.  Write a letter stating that you have an idea that you believe their company might be interested in, but that you would like them to sign a confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement prior to disclosing your idea.  If you are expecting compensation in the event that they implement your idea, you should state this up front.  You may want to have an attorney review the letter and any confidentiality agreement that the company presents to you. 
  3. Understand the company’s rules and procedures for un-solicited idea submissions.  Many companies, like Apple, Black & Decker, LG, Bank of America, and Microsoft, have written policies and procedures posted online.  You should do an online search for a company’s idea submission policy and review the policy prior to contacting the company.  If you are unable to find one on their website, ask if they have such a policy.  Often these policies state that such un-solicited ideas will not be compensated and become the property of the company, which you will want to know before you disclose your idea to the company. 
  4. Make sure to document your conception of the idea, as well as your interaction with the company.  A timeline and written documentation of your communication with the company provides good evidence in the event that you believe your idea has been misappropriated. 

Martha Engel is an intellectual property lawyer at the law firm of Vidas, Arrett & Steinkraus, PA.

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