The fifth in a series of 10 blogs by Martin Brassell of Inngot, helping you find your own answers to 10 key questions about your intellectual property, or IP.

If you’re lucky enough to have a ‘eureka!’ moment, it’s tempting to shout about it from the rooftops. However, if you want to profit from your idea – or even if you just want keep control over where it leads – that’s really quite an inadvisable thing to do.

Generally speaking, with any kind of IP (or something that could become IP), the fewer people who know about it, the better. If you disclose your idea too soon, or to the wrong people, you will wreck your chances of being able to secure a patent (where applicable) and you could help others to get to market ahead of you. It’s challenging enough to be a successful pioneer without inadvertently giving your competition a head start.

Of course, many important discoveries don’t happen in isolation. It may take teams of people working for years to make a scientific or technical breakthrough, and naturally they will need to communicate with each other during this process. This pattern of research and development typically occurs within and between institutions such as universities or large research-led corporations, all of whom understand the need to maintain appropriate levels of confidentiality so as to preserve patenting options. As an additional incentive, being the first to publish new findings is always highly prized.

Nowadays, of course, there’s also a collaborative development model at the opposite end of the scale, where communities work on open projects across continents and make everything they do accessible to the rest of the world at every stage. This approach is eminently well suited to social and not-for-profit enterprise: it does pose some fairly insuperable challenges for anyone wishing to make commercial use of the outputs, but then, that’s often precisely the point of doing things that way.

However, assuming that your intention is to make money, or at least to exercise a degree of control over an innovation, here are a few rules that are worth following:

  • If you are working with colleagues, ensure that they know and respect the things that are secret and sensitive about what you’re all doing.
  • If you have employees, make sure their contracts contain obligations to keep work matters confidential (and most importantly, that they know those clauses are in there).
  • Before you start discussing your innovation or your plans with third parties who aren’t IP attorneys, get a confidentiality agreement in place (this is sometimes called an NDA or non-disclosure agreement; it amounts to the same thing). The best sort of agreement is usually mutual so that it permits a two-way flow of ideas.
  • Be especially careful when it comes to e-mail traffic. Digital files can be all over the world in seconds.

Naturally, if you’re working on your own, you’ll just ‘keep it zipped’.... won’t you?

You can pick up a free confidentiality agreement or non-disclosure wording from by visiting the ‘Free downloads’ section of the website.

Others in the series:

De-mystifying IP

Unlocking the hidden value of apps

IP - What have I got?

IP - Is what I have original and distinctive?

Is my IP really mine?

IP - How can I protect what I’ve got?