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What an IP co-ordinator should know, confidentially speaking

By David French

While recently on a trip to the United States, I was invited by an inventor with new technology relating to Cold Fusion to sign a Confidentiality Document, also known as a Nondisclosure Agreement, or NDA. I reviewed the document and I was reminded of the important points to consider before ever signing such a paper.

Inventors rely on non-disclosure agreements to preserve their rights to file for patent protection when disclosing their ideas to others during the development or funding stage of their inventions. Most countries in the world will not grant a patent, or uphold its validity in litigation, if it comes out that the inventor broke secrecy before filing a first patent application. This is the famous novelty requirement of patent law. Until further jurisprudence develops, it is likely that a single disclosure to a person who is not obligated to keep the information confidential will have the effect of invalidating the right to obtain a patent. Accordingly, it’s legitimate for inventors to want to discuss their ideas only on a confidential basis.

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We’re under NDA, right?

This is post is by Associate Phil Newman, a London-based marketing and commercialization strategist for technology companies. We welcome your comments.

By Phil Newman

“OK. Tuesday at 2:30. Great, see you then. We’ll get our NDA over to you guys … yeah, it’s mutual … we can talk more freely about how things could shape up between us. OK, Tuesday it is.”

Sounds fine, doesn’t it? Countersigned NDA filed in the company’s records, check. Possible collaboration with the guys at XYZ Corp., check. Mutual NDA that states what’s ours is ours, check.

But is the NDA, or Non-Disclosure Agreement, a simple business-process document that’s as everyday as a purchase order, or a legally binding document that opens up the potential of intellectual property (IP) issues later? And what about those IP clauses in your standard employment contract? French car-maker Renault recently suspended three senior execs in what was described as a sophisticated case of industrial espionage. The case revolved around electric vehicle programs and power train and battery technology. Chinese companies have been named, but involvement has been denied.

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