Protecting Ideas: Can Ideas Be Protected or Patented?

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65 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for Mark G]
    Mark G
    May 19, 2014 02:53 am

    I’m not sure if this blog is still monitored but I have a question:

    I have tool product idea of which I built a prototype approximately 6 months ago and have been using it myself in my own business since then. I like its purpose very much and believe other’s in my business and similar businesses would also benefit from how it can help make a technician’s work-life like mine, so much easer (at least for me it does). I am about to make one for a worker of mine to use and get more input from a different person to see if they feel the same way. So this is where I currently am at the moment.

    I have done some patent searching and found a product that is somewhat similar yet completely different. In other words it does not work the same way although it is made somewhat similar. So the question is: is there a way I can know whether or not my product is different enough from other products of similar types to patent it?
    Maybe some guidelines somewhere?

    I think an example of what I am speaking of might be like this: Take an ashtray where it’s use is to hold a cigarette, flick ashes into it and finally crush out the smoke and lets pretend it was a patentable product (not sure but probably was it its time). Now say someone had the idea to take that same ashtray, make it of metal and place a disk on the bottom with a pusher rod attached to the disk so when you push the rod down the disk spins and releases the current topside ashes downward, clearing the topside pocket to be ready to collect more ashes. The ashtray does the same thing except it handles the ashes differently. Yes I know these exist but this is simply an example of how one product being very similar to another product might still be patentable.

    The difference with my product compared to similar products is comparable in that it handles the way it does its purpose similarly but differently.

    I hope you can shed some light on my question and thank you for reading.

    Mark G

    Thank you,
    Mark G

  • [Avatar for Jared]
    February 1, 2014 02:55 am

    Hi, I am in a similar boat as many inventors,
    I have developed my idea and prototype and don’t have the funds to patent.
    Would it be safe to file a provisional patent, then try and sell the invention to a corporation,
    If it is safe and if they did want to buy it, what would happen next?
    Would I sell the provisional patent or have to follow through with the patent before I could sell?

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    January 15, 2014 12:35 pm


    As the article explains, ideas cannot be patented. If you have an invention then you can obtain a patent.


  • [Avatar for Denisse Ireland]
    Denisse Ireland
    January 15, 2014 12:32 am


    How can we go about patenting your idea? Are there any reputable websites and or companies?

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    January 6, 2014 12:21 pm


    Ideas are not protectable by anything other than contract law. If you have an invention that is new and non-obvious it may be able to be patented. Inventions that relate to the Internet are patented all the time. To patent such an invention you have to be able to describe on a technical level how to implement your idea/invention.


  • [Avatar for Steve Yeash]
    Steve Yeash
    January 6, 2014 09:33 am

    Is it possible to secure, protect, or own an idea relating to the Internet?
    This particular idea would create a unique level of Internet security for parents.

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    January 5, 2014 12:10 pm


    I recommend you take a look at this article, which explains how to get started toward protecting software.


  • [Avatar for Jessica]
    January 5, 2014 11:04 am

    Can I obtain a patent for a software program that can add a feature to any merchant’s website?
    It is in an idea phase currently. Can you share advice on how I can protect my idea so I can offer it to sell?

  • [Avatar for Zender Canizales]
    Zender Canizales
    November 20, 2013 02:57 pm

    I have a question, reading your article gives me insight and frustration all at the same time. Since 2003, I have been told so many things about patents that now I’m literally kicking myself because today I found an online post of someone else with a patent of my developed invention. I don’t know whether to try to find more info or cry and give up. How could I possibly know if it was given away by a company I had sign a disclaimer with or what? I have been developing, designing, modifying and researching on my invention since 2003, would I still have a shot at doing it?
    Please, I would love all the advice I can get. I have been misled, and I hate to think I missed my opportunity.

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    October 15, 2013 05:12 pm


    The interesting thing about a comment like yours is you have no idea what you are talking about. As the law gets more and more complicated lawyers are doing quite well. There is no need for us to protect our craft. What you write is rather laughable really.


  • [Avatar for James Kline]
    James Kline
    October 15, 2013 04:21 am

    Bobby, thank you for standing your ground. I smell lawyers trying to protect their craft. When people begin the belittling comments, they’re usually lying.


  • [Avatar for Hugh]
    October 12, 2013 12:23 am

    Hey Glenn could I get a patent for an idea/invention (have drawings) that I have that is based on combining two separate concepts? For example company A makes spoons and company B makes forks, if I utilized both the companies’ products to create my idea/ invention of a ‘spork’ would that be infringing on their patents? Because I would have to use their products to make mine, is my invention patentable?

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    August 23, 2013 12:13 pm


    I think that is excellent advice. “If your idea is worth creating, then it is worth getting a patent!”

    Thanks for reading.


  • [Avatar for William Rodrick]
    William Rodrick
    August 22, 2013 08:26 pm

    Hello Gene,

    I must say, this is the third article I read from your blog (after a colleague suggested your site) and must say I am very impress with your content.

    I found your article on Robin Thicke Sues Marvin Gaye very entertaining (not as much as his video tho!

    In regards to inventions, I would add that whatever your invention, having a patent will provide you with a better standing ground against anyone copying your idea.

    You could even threaten and, if required, bring patent infringement proceedings against an unauthorized user of the invention (hopefully it doesn’t get that ugly! Apple vs Samsung anyone?)

    But seriously, a patent will protect your investment of time and resources in the research and development of your invention.

    if your idea is worth creating, then it is worth getting a patent!

  • [Avatar for Richard Useda]
    Richard Useda
    February 25, 2013 04:11 pm

    Hello Gene,
    My name is Richard Useda, and I came up with an idea for an app that can be used with iPhones and iPads and other smart phones as well. I have researched this idea, and it blows me away that nobody has thought of this. I understand that the filing fee is $45, but how do I obtain the address to file my idea. I have written down my idea on paper, and I placed a “c” in the corner as you instructed, and I drew a circle around it, so on paper, I have copy righted my idea, but now I am waiting to hear from you so I can proceed to the next step.
    Thank-you very much,
    Richard Useda

  • [Avatar for Jack London]
    Jack London
    November 20, 2012 05:59 pm

    Thank you for your web-site. I had many questions, that your site has answered. I always owned my own company and have done well with several products that I have developed and designed. At 60 yrs old Im still coming up with Ideas and products. This time though I am ready to get my first one Patented. Thanks again and best of luck, Jack

  • [Avatar for Carter]
    August 21, 2012 07:52 pm


    Your best bet may to file a provisional application so you can go ‘patent pending’ this way you can openly present your idea to potential investors and be protected for 12 months. Usually investors won’t waste their time unless you are patent pending anyways.

  • [Avatar for Dennis]
    August 7, 2012 12:02 am

    Thank you for all of the information at your website! However, I didn’t see anything about patenting a “process”. I already realize that subtle changes could be made to my idea (which I’ve already implemented in my own home), effectively cutting me out of the loop for any potential piece of the pie. So I have to say that does take some of the wind out of my sails and makes me just want to post the process online for others to use or perhaps publish a small book on it to sell online for a modest profit.

    Specifically, and assuming a process can be patented, this is in the area of building science. A builder would take a recommended (and readily available) generic product and combine it with another generic product normally used in home construction and “install” them according to my drawing/plans. The fact that these two products are combined in this fashion generates a process that results in a verifiable cost savings to the homeowner. I believe this is truly revolutionary in building science.

    So I guess that returns me to my original question of whether a process can in fact be patented?

  • [Avatar for Stuart]
    July 17, 2012 09:34 am

    I have an idea that I would like to incorporate into my website but the work is likely to cost tens of thousands and then the following Marketing could cost 100’s of thousands, of which as a small business I cannot afford. I was thinking of approaching the likes of eBay with my idea, their website is 99% ready to accommodate my idea and is sure to make them millions annually if they were to integrate the system I have.

    However, I don’t want to just email, phone or visit, tell them the idea and eBay then shuts the door says thank you and make millions.

    My point is

    1. can I copyright it?
    2. Would they sign a confidentiality agreement?
    3. Anybody know what an idea is worth if say eBay stands to make £10million a year?
    4. What are my options please?

    Many thanks

  • [Avatar for Jacob]
    May 7, 2012 10:09 pm


    The patent is not enforced until the patent is granted. You can communicate with the patent office to get a clear picture on the status of your patent.

  • [Avatar for Alan Mainwaring]
    Alan Mainwaring
    April 17, 2012 12:34 am

    Notice that many patents are titled as “Application for a patent” does that mean that the patent is enforced or that it is merely in a sort of “holding pattern”. How do you know when a patent is enforced??

  • [Avatar for Canadian Citizenship Test]
    Canadian Citizenship Test
    November 2, 2011 11:43 pm

    I agree that the law often goes against common sense, and that matter is in no way limited to patent law.

  • [Avatar for John Gates]
    John Gates
    March 17, 2011 10:32 am

    So…… what happens if you get someone to notarize your work? Is this not a possibility? I understand that mailing could easily be argued, but to have someone else sign the form and stamp it.. would that be a cheap efficient way for starving artist-esk inventors? It’s unfortunate that in today’s financial status, we don’t always have the small amount of money it takes to send out 5-10 patent/copyrights. It may not seem like much, but it adds up quick for someone who isn’t running a business and working for some retailer.

  • [Avatar for Julian Adonis]
    Julian Adonis
    March 6, 2011 08:13 am

    Mr. quinn,

    I had an idea about an innovative social network, which i designed, programmed and developed, now it is a real, up and running website, ready to use.

    Now i wish to pitch it with, like yahoo or google, but the problem is, i can’t acquire a patent on a website, i had copyrighted it however, but copyright does’nt protect the core idea or the innovative concept which the website follows, I wanna know how can i assure that after a pitch meeting, and presenting my website to corporations, they won’t develop their own website on same concept?

  • [Avatar for Randy C]
    Randy C
    February 23, 2011 06:52 pm

    Re: Sealed Envelope
    “All that mailing your work to yourself will prove is that you had whatever is in the envelope as of a certain date, and that is only assuming there is a postmark on the envelope (which does not always happen) and further assuming the envelope is not opened. It provides no rights whatsoever.”

    What if you use registered mail to mail it to yourself? The process of Registered Mail is that once the envelope is sealed, any flaps/seals on the envelope will be sealed by USPS employees using their adhesive tape. Then, the USPS employees will date stamp the edge of the seals that also covers the envelope, then signed I believe. That way it’s easy to tell if it’s tampered because the stamp won’t align if the USPS seal was opened.

    Wouldn’t that be sufficient enough as proof?

  • [Avatar for Kat]
    February 19, 2011 04:52 pm


    Thank you for responding so quickly. I had a patent attorney do an official search and I was never able to get a straight answer to my questions. So I have been doing some research on my own to see how far it dates back. You did answer one of the questions that I have been trying to find an answer to you. For this I am very grateful for. I will keep you in mind if anything comes up on future projects.


  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    February 19, 2011 03:16 pm


    A provisional patent application is not examined.

    If an invention is publicly used for more than 12 months no patent can be obtained. If this other invention was known before you invented you also would not be able to obtain a patent. Having said this, your question requires specific legal advise based on the unique facts. You should contact a patent attorney or patent agent for advise specific to your situation. Without knowing the unique facts giving you a definitive answer is impossible.

    Sent from iPhone

  • [Avatar for Kat]
    February 19, 2011 01:37 pm

    I developed a product and did a patent search. The search found an online blog was demonstrating a tutorial of the same method, but there is no evidence of a utility patent filed at this time. If a product is public, can it be patentable? My product covers a wider usage than the blog and I can incorporate other features.

    When filing a provisional patent, does the patent office move forward on seeing if it patentable or does it sit until you file an official patent. Meaning, once you file the provisional patent and spend that additional time developing and producing product for market, do you not know if you will get the patent or get pulled?


  • [Avatar for Kaye]
    February 4, 2011 10:28 am

    If I receive a letter from a company stating that one of my products is in conflict with their patent & I do agree that the products are quite similar and that I do not have a patent. How long do I have to make the appropriate changes in regards to removing the product from my website & literature? I would think that there would be a law or amendment that allows for a reasonable amount of time, but I am not fully knowledgeable of this. Could you please clarify if there is a “within reason action” option for me?


  • [Avatar for The Mad Hatter]
    The Mad Hatter
    January 23, 2011 01:12 am

    Heh. What do you expect. I’m Canadian. Our definition of Conservative is to the left of your Democrats on a lot of issues. And to the right of your Republicans on others 🙂


  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    January 22, 2011 10:19 pm

    Thanks Wayne.

    By the way, we aren’t political or ideological twins by any means, but it is hopefully fair to say that we have each helped each other see and better understand the opposing view, maybe even taking a step closer together here and there. Now if only our elected officials could engage in such debate.



  • [Avatar for The Mad Hatter]
    The Mad Hatter
    January 22, 2011 02:16 pm

    Well, I appreciate your help Wayne, however this site is fraudulent and Gene is not only a fraud but also very offensive.

    While Gene and I don’t agree politically, he is not a fraud, nor is his site a fraud. As to his being offensive, I don’t believe that either. Direct, yes. Offensive, no.


  • [Avatar for Steve]
    January 20, 2011 02:18 am

    Very good, I will be calling you soon. I could use your services!


  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    January 19, 2011 10:03 am


    You can try and convince folks here there I am a fraud, but that is going to be a high mountain to climb I suspect. You have no idea about my reputation and that speaks volumes about you, not me. Since you mentioned our private e-mail communications and didn’t do so thoroughly or accurately please allow me to explain for everyone what transpired.

    You e-mailed me asking me about the free forms on and wanting me to verify my credentials and verify that they were legally sufficient before you used them. These forms are free and they say right on them that they can be used as seen fit, but that I cannot provide free assistance with the form. The terms of use are on every form. In any event, my response was:

    “You really should Google anyone that you would ever work with. Obviously, you have not done your homework on me or If my reputation and vast source of free and correct information doesn’t speak volumes to you then there is simply nothing I could say to attempt to convince you. Best of luck with whatever it is that you are seeking to accomplish.”

    First, I am not about to verify my credentials upon demand so that someone can decide whether they want to use a FREE form.

    Second, my credentials are all over the website. Practically every page links back to my bio page, with a host of information available for you to independently check and verify. I am open about being a member of the Patent Bar and a member of the New Hampshire Bar Association. Did you call either entity and inquire about me? Of course not. You seem to prefer to jump to wild and unfounded conclusions.

    It is well accepted in the industry that a first step prior to working with anyone is to do a Google search on them. Perhaps you are not familiar with how Google operates or that it has become the de facto search engine of choice for the world, but it has. That is not to say that you should take what is on the Internet as authoritative, but I know what you will find if you Google me and the hundreds of independent pieces of information from various sources should tell a compelling story.

    Just some highlights… IPWatchdog was recently selected the top IP Law blog by lawyers for lawyers by the American Bar Association for 2010. I was invited by the Patent Office to speak at the 15th Annual Independent Inventors Conference in November 2010. In fact, during 2010 I also spoke at the Manhattan Inventors group and the South Florida group, two of the most active inventor groups in the country. I have also spoken at the DC group in 2009. I have had lengthy interviews with top newsmakers, politicians and judges in the patent world — do you think they would talk to me if I were a fraud? On top of that I was sued by one of the more infamous invention submission companies because they didn’t like the warnings I have about invention fraud on my website.

    I could go on and on and on. If you chose to do your homework you would leave with the inescapable conclusion that I am not a fraud. Of course, I don’t have hopes that you will apologize or even believe the truth. Like so many you are paralyzed with skepticism and far more likely to actually wind up working with those who are scams and frauds than those who are legitimate. That is the sad reality of the industry, and there is nothing no one can do about it.

    I apologize if you didn’t like my response. I get tons of e-mails everyday and I greatly prefer working with people who do their homework and are serious professionals and inventors. I prefer to work with those who come to me to seek my assistance because I am who I am, not because I was a patent attorney who happened to be free and able to pick up the phone when a call came in.


  • [Avatar for Stephenie]
    January 19, 2011 04:02 am

    Well, I appreciate your help Wayne, however this site is fraudulent and Gene is not only a fraud but also very offensive. Want to know what I’m talking about? When e-mailed him before considering a purchase of a form I had asked him for credentials to prove his legitimacy, because like Wayne said about people, I tend to be skeptical with people and who they say they are online. His response was that I should have googled him and his site to clearly see a display of his reputation. No thank you. Apparently my skepticism was correct, because I’d rather not buy forms from someone who’s reputable source is google. How many people create their own “reputation” on google? Get serious Gene and quit ripping these people off. I’ll be more than happy to copy and paste the actual response on here if needed. I don’t need your luck, conceited, just the satisfaction of embarrassing you is enough.

  • [Avatar for The Mad Hatter]
    The Mad Hatter
    January 18, 2011 05:13 pm

    That is a great quote! And coming from a non-lawyers! You say: “I’m not saying that there aren’t nice people out there, but I can guarantee that you won’t meet them, if your idea has value.”

    What a sad commentary on human nature, but I agree with you. I wouldn’t call you cynical, just a realist.

    And this is one of the cases where I hate to be right. I’d rather be wrong, and people act in a moral and ethical manner, however I’ve learned the hard way that too few people do.


  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    January 18, 2011 01:43 pm


    That is a great quote! And coming from a non-lawyers! You say: “I’m not saying that there aren’t nice people out there, but I can guarantee that you won’t meet them, if your idea has value.”

    What a sad commentary on human nature, but I agree with you. I wouldn’t call you cynical, just a realist.



  • [Avatar for The Mad Hatter]
    The Mad Hatter
    January 18, 2011 11:25 am


    Oh dear. Well, the first thing you need to do, before anything, is get a lawyer. The lawyer’s job is to protect you, and you can be damned sure that if your idea has any monetary value, that someone will attempt to steal it. Yes, I’m a cynical old bastard. I’m not saying that there aren’t nice people out there, but I can guarantee that you won’t meet them, if your idea has value.

    So get a lawyer. Yes, it will cost, but it will save you money in the long run.


  • [Avatar for Stephenie]
    January 17, 2011 03:23 am

    Any suggestions on how to raise money for the patent process? I am in a similar position as Sarah, however don’t want to waste my time and risk others beating me to my invention idea. I have everything lined up in the details of my product and I want to launch this puppy as soon as possible.

  • [Avatar for The Mad Hatter]
    The Mad Hatter
    December 2, 2010 09:51 am

    Here’s another reference for Sarah, about the importance of having a business plan before launching the invention (in this case an application).


  • [Avatar for The Mad Hatter]
    The Mad Hatter
    November 30, 2010 05:35 pm


    Rather than doing the research about how to patent the invention, you would be far better off working on the design to make sue that:

    a) It works
    b) it can be built
    c) The costs are reasonable
    d) That there actually is a market
    e) That it’s something people will want

    Let’s look at Apple. Apple got into the MP3 player market by considering what everyone else was doing, and then redefining the MP3 player based on user design. Starting out with no market share at all, they came to dominate the market due to their superior product design.

    OK, so you’ve got an idea. The idea is useless unless you can develop it into a product, and the product is designed so that people want it.

    It sounds to me like you are putting the cart before the horse. Yes, a patent is important, but a salable product is more important (and quite frankly what you learn working on the product will change your conception of the idea, and make for a better patent).


  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    November 30, 2010 03:38 pm


    You won’t like to hear this answer, but there is really nothing that anyone can do to help you if you do not have the funds to proceed. Just the fees due to the Patent Office alone easily run into several thousands of dollars to get a patent, and that is without legal assistance. In truth, the patent is the cheapest part of the equation, so if you are broke then the answer is that pursuing a patent is likely not the wisest course of action. Having said that, you might consider a provisional patent application, but even that will cost you something and eventually you will have to file a nonprovisional patent application. So there is not much you can do if you don’t have the funds or are unable to raise the funds to pursue your invention.


  • [Avatar for Sarah]
    November 30, 2010 01:51 am

    I recently graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree. Since graduation I have been looking for work but can’t get one. Anyways my point is that I am flat broke but I think I have an amazing invention. I have been doing all the necessary research for getting my invention patented, save for getting an agent and a patent attorney and based on what I have read it seems that I should just wait till I have money before actually getting my work patented. However, there is always the fear that someone else may use my idea. What now?

  • [Avatar for The Mad Hatter]
    The Mad Hatter
    November 29, 2010 10:41 am


    Damn, you beat me to it!


    If I remembered the HTML right, you should see an image, if I didn’t, well, click an IANAE’s link.

  • [Avatar for IANAE]
    November 29, 2010 09:53 am

    Today’s xkcd provides a recourse.

  • [Avatar for The Mad Hatter]
    The Mad Hatter
    November 28, 2010 04:22 pm

    To be brutally frank, if you don’t get off your ass and do something, it’s your own damned fault.


  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    November 28, 2010 03:05 pm

    Mad Hatter-

    Well said.

    I can’t tell you how many times we are contacted by folks who did invent something, can prove it, but then never did anything with it or filed a provisional patent application and never moved forward with a nonprovisional patent application. Then after someone else does it they want to know if there is anything they can do. Unfortunately, there is no recourse by the time you realize someone else has taken your idea/invention to the next level.


  • [Avatar for The Mad Hatter]
    The Mad Hatter
    November 28, 2010 11:45 am

    Talk about off-topic.

    The whole point of Gene’s post is that an idea is worthless without the work to transform it into something useful, a point I wholly agree with.

    I don’t know how many times I’ve meet people who were going to be rich because of some idea, but who NEVER implemented it, most often because of a lack of persistence. Sorry folks, unless you implement your idea, you are dead in the water.


  • [Avatar for Bobby]
    November 27, 2010 03:09 pm

    I am not claiming that you shouldn’t be wary of advice on the internet.
    I am not denying that the law and common sense are often in conflict.
    I am not saying conclusively that it wouldn’t count as publishing, but I do have my doubts about whether or not that is true. I am not making a positive claim either way, though. I have said what I would think would be the case, and I readily admit that the reality of the law may differ. This is not intended to be advice, but rather conjecture given what I currently know. If you have more information on the subject, then it would be welcome, and my best guess could change.

  • [Avatar for Blind Dogma]
    Blind Dogma
    November 27, 2010 12:13 pm


    Do you really not see that you are contradicting yourself?

    Compare: “I’m not claiming anything otherwise” and “I am skeptical of it being considered published

    Must you parade your ignorance under such a pretentious banner of self-assuredness? You yet continue to march in blindness.

  • [Avatar for Bobby]
    November 27, 2010 09:10 am

    I’m not claiming anything otherwise. My firm claim is that proper digital evidence would be more compelling to a competent judge/jury than the evidence presented in the traditional self-mailing. I’m not saying that it’s a good idea for authors, let alone inventors.

    I am skeptical of it being considered published under those circumstances, especially if it’s encrypted (although I do see that some forms of sending files over the internet would be publishing). Given that only the sender knows what it contains, it would seem to be a very powerful tool against those making patent claims against a firm under those circumstances. The firm can do this kind of action en masse for practically nothing, and only the prior art they want to be considered would be considered.

  • [Avatar for Blind Dogma]
    Blind Dogma
    November 26, 2010 06:41 pm

    As Step Back wisely notes“…


    This, you see, is what is wrong with taking advice over the internet and giving advice over the internet.

    Many of the things that one lay person says to another lay person about what seems to be “common sense” and “sound logic” about how patent law works, or should work, turns out to be flat wrong and if that advice is followed it can be fatal to the legal rights of a person relying on such advice.

    By emailing you invention idea to multiple parties, you may very well have “published” your invention…

    Open your eyes.

  • [Avatar for Bobby]
    November 26, 2010 04:46 pm

    “Proof…. in what context?”
    Perhaps you should read Gene’s article and the other posts. The context is conclusive evidence that something existed at a certain point in time, with common-law copyright being the most common cause, although evidence of first-to-invent for a patent in the US may be useful, and it could have other uses that are not immediately obvious to me. The classic scenario with mail plays out like this:

    You mail yourself a copy of a work until you can get the 40 bucks needed to register a copyright. You use the postmark of the work mailed to yourself as evidence that you wrote the work before a certain time.

    However, others have pointed out technical methods to foil this, which lead to less reliability in court. Digital methods of verification could easily be more reliable on a technical side, as it’s more plausible that you could tamper with an envelope than convince several independent companies, which may be worth millions or even billions, to fraudulently claim that a file was sent earlier than it was. While certainly not limited to email, the basic jist is that emailing to yourself could be more reliable for this purpose than mailing to yourself.

  • [Avatar for Blind Dogma]
    Blind Dogma
    November 26, 2010 04:28 pm

    The comments focused on ‘what constitutes proof.

    Proof…. in what context?

    Get a clue.

    Bobby, there is a reason why people who practice law go to law school first. If you are interested in what transpires in the courts – you will want to open your mind first – go back and read my comments – I advised you to be careful in how you state things – that advice still pertains.

  • [Avatar for Bobby]
    November 26, 2010 03:19 pm

    Things other than patents can be discussed here, and often are. The comments focused on ‘what constitutes proof.’ Step Back’s comment was the first to focus on something other than what constitutes proof. I mentioned that I wasn’t focused on patents, but addressed his points, while acknowledging that something not actually readable to anybody but the original sender might still be interpreted in court to count as ‘publishing’ despite not being available to the public in a readable or usable form.

    I haven’t come anywhere close to suggesting that this is a good idea for a patent applicant wanting exclusive rights on a global market. The utility would be limited outside of the US anyway since most other countries are first-to-file. The specifics of how the concept of publication is applied to encryption could be interesting, and if you are aware of any literature on the subject, particularly regarding law outside of the US, it might be a good read and I would appreciate you leading me to said information.

  • [Avatar for Blind Dogma]
    Blind Dogma
    November 26, 2010 02:04 pm

    And you think I exhibit an inability of basic reading comprehension?

    Bobby – you are on a patent blog.

    WAKE UP.

    Even if you are merely discussing “technical” aspects of time creation, those technical aspects are not the pertinent items for a discussion on this blog. It is the very “incidental” items (your words) that are critical here.

    I am not confused – It is clear that you do not understand the world of patents as what you consider “evidence” is simply not proper for the purpose you advance. Your chutzpah at thinking that your are correct is only matched by the level of which you are incorrect.

  • [Avatar for Bobby]
    November 26, 2010 01:51 pm

    Again, you demonstrate an inability for basic reading comprehension. I am talking primarily about technical verification of time of creation, not legal protection of patents or time of disclosure. Involvement in patent law hee in this conversation is incidental because I am not talking specifically about patents. Even if your emails or other file storage/transfer not legally accessible to the general public counts as ‘publishing,’ it still doesn’t change the fact that you have evidence that no tamper has occurred since a certain date, and that evidence is going to be more reliable than mail, even with a notary and additional tape.

    In regards to my core argument, publishing is actually one of the best ways to provide this kind of evidence. Many people buying or watching (assuming the work is recorded in some tangible form before or during airing) a work is conclusive evidence that it existed at a certain time. It could be a bad idea in regards to patents, but the mailing in an envelope is primarily seen a copyright issue.

    If my post confuses you, ignore the parts about patents and focus on the idea of providing evidence. You can work on how to use better digital evidence in a manner more useful and less risky to patent seekers if you wish, but that is not what this current discussion is about.

  • [Avatar for Blind Dogma]
    Blind Dogma
    November 26, 2010 12:39 pm

    so long as you take the right steps.

    As Step Back wisely notes, the first such step to take would be to not listen to Bobby, who has no clue to what he is talking about (again).

    Bobby, you misconstrue what the legal definition of “publishing” is. I would advise you to be more careful in how you phrase your “observations”. Gene (rightly so) runs a tight ship on what appears to be legal advise (whether you claim to be a lawyer or not). People do read these pages and what makes sense to them is often reinforced as human nature, being what it is, people will listen to what they like to hear. When you post on what you feel the way things should be, you reinforce these errant beliefs which can cause people to lose their substantive rights. This is not a matter of protecting the lawyers job security – it is a matter of protecting those rights. Quite frankly, your cynicism is part of the problem.

  • [Avatar for Bobby]
    November 26, 2010 09:20 am

    @step back
    I’m not saying that this is inherently a good idea or that my comments should be taken as legal advice, but rather that it is probably an idea preferable to the technical measures, so long as you take the right steps.

    This debate would not be limited to patents, since verification of the creation date (in copyright and perhaps other matters where such proof is useful) is a legitimate concern for a large amount of the population, and in that matter, I would say that physical mail delivery is horribly outdated compared to digital alternatives.

    As far as public disclosure goes, an encrypted file is not readable by the public, and if done properly, is arguably going to more technically secure from the public than evidence by mail, even if it was publicly available on The Pirate Bay (which is what Wikileaks has done with their ‘insurance’ file, the exact contents of which are unknown despite considerable interest). By comparison, I receive mail that isn’t mine delivered to me on a fairly regular basis without any action on my part. Even an unencrypted file on a non-dedicated service such as gmail is protected fairly well from the general public to an extent that calling it ‘publishing’ is ridiculous (members of the public accessing it without permission even when exercising pathetic personal security would be considered a serious crime if we all have the same kind of protection given to Sarah Palin), although I suppose judges and juries have been duped over bigger things in the past. Consulting a lawyer familiar with the matter would probably be a good idea, but it is quite reasonable to claim that there is less exposure than you would have with a confidentiality agreement, especially if you do things right. Of course, if you do things wrong, the problems you mentioned could occur. However, those weren’t issues with verification, which is what my post was about.

    I agree that the law often goes against common sense, and that matter is in no way limited to patent law. If I’m in a cynical mood, I might even suggest that some lawyers like it that way to provide greater job security, but various provisions tacked on would ensure that our laws remain a jungle without such actions.

  • [Avatar for step back]
    step back
    November 26, 2010 04:53 am

    … but it seems more compelling to me

    Dear Bobby,

    This, you see, is what is wrong with taking advice over the internet and giving advice over the internet.

    Many of the things that one lay person says to another lay person about what seems to be “common sense” and “sound logic” about how patent law works, or should work, turns out to be flat wrong and if that advice is followed it can be fatal to the legal rights of a person relying on such advice.

    By emailing you invention idea to multiple parties, you may very well have “published” your invention idea before filing a patent application. In many countries around the world such release of the inventive idea may very well destroy a required “absolute novelty” for the invention.

    Much of patent law is counter-intuitive and often the flowing in exactly the opposite direction from that which “common sense” tells you it should go. People should be very wary about getting their advice from the internet and should instead consult in private with a licensed patent attorney.

  • [Avatar for Bobby]
    November 24, 2010 04:00 pm

    i would think the best method of independently providing proof at a certain period of time would be sending digital copies to multiple sources that can independently verify the date that said copy was sent. It could even be protected by using encryption. This method also doesn’t limit itself to one-time proof. I’m not sure to what extent this would have to be done for it to be court-worthy, but it seems more compelling to me with just a few major services being used than mail would be.

  • [Avatar for Stan E. Delo]
    Stan E. Delo
    November 24, 2010 03:52 pm

    Another point very well said by a patent agent friend of mine, is that if the inventor was actually clever enough to “invent” something, surely they would be clever enough to steam the envelope open and alter things. The Notary suggestion is well said, as it establishes a documentable date, but a Notary is not required to understand the document, only that the identity of the person submitting it is recorded for future reference if needed. Their (non) testimony as regards the content will not help you at all if push comes to shove.


  • [Avatar for IANAE]
    November 24, 2010 03:04 pm

    The reason this is not true is that anyone can mail himself/herself an unsealed envelope, receive a postmark, and then later insert and seal into the envelope any contents that person desires.

    If you really want to be particular about it, you could seal the envelope with a single piece of adhesive tape that goes around to the other side, and orient the address and postage such that the postmark prints across the tape.

    But even then, you’re much better off getting the document itself notarized for about the same amount of effort, because at least that’s third-party confirmation of the date, and it can be on the document itself. You can show the document all day, but you can only dramatically remove it from a sealed envelope once.

    And you’re still left with little more than evidence of the document’s existence on a particular date, which is a fact you’ll rarely have much use for.

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    November 24, 2010 02:16 pm


    Point taken. I just re-read the article and two paragraphs above where you take that quote I make the following statement:

    “All that mailing your work to yourself will prove is that you had whatever is in the envelope as of a certain date, and that is only assuming there is a postmark on the envelope (which does not always happen) and further assuming the envelope is not opened. It provides no rights whatsoever.”

    It is certainly worth reiterating that point. I do completely agree with you that there will be major evidence issues about whether the envelope was opened and something inserted.

    I also notice I didn’t include the link to the article I wrote about keeping a good invention notebook. I will make those edits presently.

    Thanks for reading, and for substantively contributing and keeping me honest.


  • [Avatar for Kevin M. Drucker]
    Kevin M. Drucker
    November 24, 2010 09:13 am

    Hi, Gene,

    I’m an IP attorney in Philadelphia, and I am a subscriber to your blog, which is almost always interesting and well-written. I completely agree with you about making sure clients know that mailing an envelope to oneself has no legal effect, but I’d like to point out one minor disagreement I have with you regarding a statement you made in this regard: “The one thing that mailing a description of your invention can do is demonstrate that as of the date of the postmark you were in possession of whatever is included in the envelope.” This is not at all true. The reason this is not true is that anyone can mail himself/herself an unsealed envelope, receive a postmark, and then later insert and seal into the envelope any contents that person desires. Accordingly, the only thing a sealed envelope with a postmarked date actually proves is that the envelope was postmarked — and not much else, absent some other evidence (perhaps, a video recording of the entire envelope-stuffing and mailing process? I suppose even that could be subject to some tampering.)

    Best regards,

    Kevin M. Drucker