What keeps inventors awake at night? They worry someone is going to steal their invention!
You have reason to be concerned. After all, your invention, your intellectual property (IP) lies at the core of what you have to sell. Without IP, you are out of business. If someone stealing your invention is paralyzing you with fear, preventing you back from moving forward with your invention, relax and take a deep breath. Take a chill pill. It is not as bad as you think.
No One Can Steal Your Idea
Our brains are creative cyber machines – we get new ideas every single day. Multiply that by 7 billion or so inhabitants on planet Earth and you have a massive volume of new ideas. Imagine that! Over 7 billion new ideas every single day of the year. Wow.
What are the odds that at least one other person (or maybe ten or 100) have the same idea as you? The precept that multiple people will have the same idea simultaneously is virtually guaranteed. Yet no one stole the idea from anyone else. When Thomas Edison was asked where his ideas came from, he was quoted as saying, “ideas come from outer space.” He believed that if he didn't develop an idea into an invention, someone else would. Ideas were in the ether.
An idea is intangible, it is not property and, therefore, cannot be stolen.
Need further proof? Picture an idea for a new invention: a type of wing whereby a person can easily fly like birds do from place to place with ease. Do you picture two separate wings or only one? Do they have long feathers or are they made of some kind of sheeting material? Do you flap your arms to activate them or pedal something with your legs? Each person will envision something different for the same idea.
No one can steal your idea because it is not really yours, is not tangible, and is not property. But can someone steal your product or invention? Yes, they can.
Inventions Can Be Stolen, But Rarely Are
Unlike an idea, an invention can definitely be stolen.
Why? An invention is a clearly described embodiment of what started as an idea. It is specific, it is tangible. It can be clearly depicted with drawings and dimensions whereby anyone could build it as a product. But stealing someone's invention, while being unethical, is not illegal unless the invention is protected by a patent – which is legally considered to be intellectual property. That is the key reason why you should bother to take the time, effort, and expense to patent your invention – so it an be legally protected from infringers.
Why do I claim that inventions are rarely stolen (many people would disagree with this statement)?
First and foremost, an invention is just one of many steps – and lots of time, effort and expense – required to produce a viable commercial product. No matter how great or unique your new invention may be, your friends and colleagues will never take the time, energy or expense that you will to make it a commercial product. They are too busy binge-watching Game of Thrones or playing video games to work on an invention. So, your friends aren't going to steal your invention.
You should never, however, show your invention to a manufacturer or any potential licensee unless your are patent pending. Simply put, they have the ability and wherewithal to turn your invention into a product. Too many inventors have fallen prey to a few unscrupulous companies, only because the inventors failed to protect their IP before showing their invention.
Follow Gandalf's Advice
Finally, I recommend that every inventor should make use of non-disclosure agreements (NDA) when working with others and to follow Gandalf's advice: Keep it secret, keep it safe.
Next week's blog “I'm Too Broke to be an Inventor” will be published on Monday 9/11/17.