Not Establishing Confidentiality Protections- Startups

By Debby Winters

Before publicly disclosing its intellectual property (IP), a startup should balance the risks with the rewards of allowing the confidential and sensitive IP information to get out into the public domain.  Startups often misstep and disclose patentable subject matter at investor meetings, pitch events, or on company websites prior to filing a patent application. Unfortunately, public disclosure of an invention prior to filing a patent application can limit or even destroy patent rights. Such public disclosure can also destroy a company’s trade secrets.

Third-party conversations with those not under legal obligation to maintain confidentiality, such as a public pitch or presentation, a trade show, or publication are common examples of what can be considered a public disclosure to the patent office. If such disclosure is necessary, the startup should file a provisional patent application prior to the disclosure or at the very least have the third parties sign a written Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA).

One caveat to that rule is that venture capitalists generally avoid signing NDAs because they deal with many startups and believe confidentiality obligations limit their contact and investment opportunities.  Furthermore, while speaking at trade shows or making a pitch, securing an NDA may not be feasible. In such instances, to avoid disclosing confidential information, the revealed information should be limited to generalities.

In the next part of this series we will look at the IP plan.

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