When you’re pursuing your inventions, confidentiality should be one of your top concerns. If you’re keeping an invention a trade secret, you must maintain confidentiality or else risk losing trade secret protection. Even if you’re patenting the invention, however, a breach of confidentiality could be damning. It could start the one-year disclosure clock ticking, or worse, could lead to someone else filing a patent on your invention before you do.
Patent practitioners understand and honor your need for confidentiality, and so does the USPTO. You will be happy to know that there are several layers of protection when dealing with your patent practitioner.
First, all patent practitioners are bound by the Code of Federal Regulations to maintain secrecy with current or future clients. The rule lists several exceptions, standard to most confidentiality agreements such as those between doctors and patients. They include disclosures “necessary to prevent reasonably certain death or bodily harm,” or “compliance with court orders.” However, those are all extreme, and rare, circumstances. If a patent practitioner breaches the confidentiality rules and cannot point to a permitted exception, he may lose his license to practice.
Individual practitioners usually go a step further to assure you that your information is safe. Confidentiality is hard-wired into most engagement letters, including ours here at Intellent Law. Thus, your confidentiality is explicitly protected by contract, permitting you to sue for damages if the contract is breached.
For further assurance, you could ask your patent practitioner to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). An NDA is another type of contract, so the protections in the NDA might end up duplicating the provisions in the engagement letter.
Once your confidentiality is protected by the rules and agreements described above, it may pay to share information. For utility applications, it is paramount that you disclose all possible embodiments of your invention to guarantee the broadest possible detailed description, and improve your chances of getting useful claims allowed. For design applications, giving your patent practitioner access to CAD files makes drafting design patent applications exponentially faster, and helps assure precise illustrations.
Developing a trusting relationship with your patent practitioner will help speed along prosecution. Your patent agent or patent attorney is not out to steal your idea and disseminate it to the public. If he did, he would lose his license to practice, and you could also sue him.