Written by John Plestina
How to patent and market an invention or innovative concept while maintaining a cloak of confidentiality, and when to lift the veil and go public, were addressed during a roundtable meeting in Wolf Point, Wednesday, July 30.
The Montana Department of Commerce Business Resources Division presented a Montana Technology Innovation Partnership roundtable meeting at Great Northern Development Corp. It was one of several similar free public meetings, also held in Havre, Lewistown, Miles City and Billings. It was the first time the program has been presented in Wolf Point in several years.
The meetings address inventions and intellectual property, how the state could help with patenting and marketing, and are geared to the individual needs of attendees.
Marti Elder, a Bozeman-based counselor with MTIP for over 10 years, cautioned people to be careful when talking to others about their ideas or completed but unmarketed inventions and recommended obtaining a signed legally-binding nondisclosure agreement before discussing inventions.
She cautioned that sharing information with family could be considered a public disclosure.
“If the family members blab to somebody else, then you have a problem,” Elder said.
Non-disclosure agreements are available online.
A couple from Poplar said their grandson has an invention that could be marketable to the agricultural industry. He told someone about it and that person contacted a major manufacturer, resulting in that company contacting him.
They asked Elder if it is too late for their grandson to seek a confidentiality or nondisclosure agreement with that company.
Elder responded that it might be possible to get a manufacturer to sign retroactive agreement.
Elder said if the idea has already been made public, the inventor could get a design patent, which protects the physical appearance of the invention, but the inventor might not be able to get a utility patent, which protects the way the invention is used and how it works.
Elder cautioned that if an inventor gifts or sells even one sample of the invention to anyone, it could jeopardize confidentiality.
“If you reveal your invention in a public fashion, you have one year [to patent the invention],” Elder said.
Securing a utility patent could take two-to-five years, but that is not the case for provisional patents, also known as a beginners patents, which give an invention a patent pending status and are only valid for one year.
Provisional patents are less expensive to obtain than utility patents.
Elder estimated the cost for a provisional patent between $3,000 and $5,000, which would include fees for attorneys and filing.
A non-provisional, or utility patent, costs about $6,000 with all fees and legal costs.
A professional patent search can cost $800 to $1,200 if an attorney is used or a person could do it themselves.
“Just because there is something similar, don’t be discouraged,” Elder said.
MTIP is located on the Montana State University campus in Bozeman.
It’s objectives include offering technical assistance for proposals, assistance to businesses in securing seed capital for research and development, promotion of educational opportunities that target Montana’s technology-based businesses and service providers, identifying and guiding businesses to appropriate local and national resources and to compliment rather than duplicate services of other service providers.
For additional information, contact MTIP program manager Audrey Wooding at 406-994-3885 or visit http://mtip.mt.gov/events.mcpx.
Information on not getting scammed is available at FTC.gov.