I here the pain in your email!!! I am not an attorney, so take this advice with a grain of salt....the best way that I have EVER heard of protecting yourself from someone stealing your idea is to take the following steps:
1) Make certain that your "design" incorporates not only a copyright or trademark logo somewhere, but that you also include wording to the effect that the buyer, user, etc., has NOT purchased the rights to owning the idea for use other than as a personal item without commercializing it...in other words, if they try to make money off of it, you have given them advance warning that you will sue;
2) You of course know that you should have already sold at least one copy of the prototype, with the above information thereon, and received remuneration for it, even if it is only $1....this assures you AND a court of law that you fully developed this invention with the idea of commercializing it and that as of such and such a date, you had actually made a "business profit" from it;
3) Get yourself an expert patent design attorney to tutor you about which legal tomes to read....it is imperative that YOU KNOW WHAT your rights are and a good business attorney that you are paying to have your best interests at heart and in mind will want you to be armed with some legal knowledge so you are not floundering around in the shark pool all by yourself;
4) Above recommendation #3 should also include that the attorney be well-versed in the exact contract that should be drafted for you until you have been able to "brand" your invention...in other words, any vendor that you hire to do work for you should be made to sign the correct contract, above and beyond a NDA....it should be binding in perpetuity unless you give to him or them, in writing, that your rescind the current, on-going contract that you bound them to;
5) And, last but not least, as soon as you believe you have a working machup of the prototype, do the opposite of what your instincts tell you...that`s right...Advertise the H...ll out of it!!!!! You want the entire world to know that YOU, Rocksolid, is the inventor of this item and that, it is so wonderful, so earth-shaking, that those marketing geniuses that would love to have a piece of this new pie BEFORE it goes ballistic, should contact you so that you might entertain the possibilities of a lucrative, mutually beneficial business arrangement by licensing them to an ever-so-tiny slice!
While these actions may not guarantee that any of America`s future most wanted won`t target your latest-and-greatest, you will have taken any and all steps left open to you, short of receiving a patent or copyright protection, which by the way, is not guarantee either...just ask any music or film industry executive...they`ll tell you!
Further proof that this stuff works:
1) When IBM first started, they did not SELL their invention(s), they leased them....thereby retaining ALL rights to the items....this circumvents the need to attain a patent or copyright considerably, along with the above-mentioned nomenclature on the product...tantamount to saying "If you want to use, sell, buy, rent, add value to it, etc., you need to speak with us first..."
2) Many years ago, my husband and I met an inventor...a "real" inventor. I say this not tongue-in-cheek, because he had several key inventions that he used to make a considerable amount of money from not only to live off of and support his family, but also to bankroll his numerous businesses...he used the same techniques.....never had a problem that I`m aware of...Trust me, this guy would have taken anyone who messed with his "intellectual property" to the CLEANERS if the even sniffed at his stuff without coughing up dough!
3) Also, even before many years ago in #2 above, I worked for an educational tape cassette company that sold educational tape cassettes to educational institutions (elementary, high school, and universities)...they made a decent business profit doing so as 99% of the cassettes were owned solely by our company....or had the sole rights to the intellectual property contained in the tapes (remember those old tape cassettes?!). Well, one day, we get a letter from some guy stating that he had estimated from our years in business and our close associations with schools, that we owed him such-and-such an amount of money!!!!! Needless to say, the owners panicked...couldn`t figure out why they owed HIM money! So, he makes an appointment with them, brings some prototypes with him as proof, and says that the "binders" that the company had been using to house those cassette tapes were copies of his prototypes that had been "stolen" by someone and that the company we were buying them from was not paying any "royalties" to him from their sales of them!!!! The owners were non-plussed, but dutifully checked with their attorneys to get the scoop on the legal Poop, so to speak. They found out the following solution....tell this guy the name of the company that you buy the binders from, and give this guy all the information about how many the company made for you, paid for or not. Let HIM deal with the legalities...since we had not been manufacturing the binders, it was not our responsibility. The guy accepted our information and went on to annoy the manufacturer...but before he left, I spoke with him about what he was doing to "protect" himself...he told me that it was working and that the people who were making money off of selling his property were making less and less and he was getting closer and closer to finding out where they operated. He had no patent by the way....just proof that the idea, invention, and first sale for commercial use had been made by him.....
Hope this helps....
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