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Initial Idea Protection

The Disclosure Document Program

By © Stephen Paul Gnass

Also Known As The "Poor Man's Patent":

You may have heard about sending yourself a description of your own invention by registered mail to help document the idea as your own. History books may describe cases of people who won the rights to their ideas due to a self-addressed, sealed envelope mailed to themselves. But there are different "types" of ideas that require different types of protection. As far as "inventions" go - this one step alone has never been enough to prove ownership of an idea.

Even though once upon a time this may have been a valid form of proof for artistic and written expressions, times have changed and because inventors of sorts have devised clever ways of opening and resealing envelopes, this procedure doesn't really hold up in court any more.

Since the only cost is the envelope and stamp, it doesn't hurt to include this in your overall protection strategy as an "added insurance". Just don't rely on it as your only means of protection.



Even though this program was discontinued, information about it may still be floating around in the air in old books, etc., so it's helpful to know what it was and how it worked. To legally establish the date of your idea's conception, prior to February 1st, 2007, inventors could register a "Disclosure Document" with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (PTO).

For $10.00, inventors were able to send this witnessed and notarized description of their invention with a sketch and a cover letter to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, requesting that the PTO hold the Disclosure Document on file for a period of two years. This legally established the date of an idea's conception. If the inventor filed for a patent within this two year period, the patent would be able to reference the Dislosure Document on file and it would be kept permanently. If a patent was not filed within this two year period, the Disclosure Document would be discarded by the patent office.

Here is the link to information about the Disclosure Document Program on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office web site. Remember, it is discontinued.
Please note that a separate window will open when you click on this link. When you are ready to come back to NCIO, just close the new window and this page will still be on your desktop.

Once the U.S.PTO received it, they would send inventors a copy of the request with an ID number as proof that they had processed it. Be note that the U.S. Patent & Trademark office always stated that the filing of this document would NOT give inventors any legal protection. It was NOT a patent application. This document only helped to establish the date of an idea's "conception". So even though it would remain on file for two years, it wasn't intended to give inventors a two year buffer or protection.

Note: It's interesting to note that many invention marketing scams used to file this cheap form on behalf of inventors. Since it was filed with the U.S. Patent Office, it was easy to fool inventors into believing that it was an official patent application.


Now, in place of filing a "Disclosure Document", inventors can create what is called an "Official Date of Conception". It's basically the same thing, except that it will "not" be officially filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Instead, you can draft it yourself, get it notarized, and keep it in your records as proof of your "conception date".

Since the "Official Date of Conception" only helps to prove the date your idea was conceived, in the case of infringement of your idea, you would also need to prove "due diligence" which means that you would need back-up documentation to show that you have consistently and persistently been actively working on your idea since its conception. This is where the "log book" documentation comes in to prove that you have been working on your idea. Therefore, in and of itself, the Official Date of Conception is worthless.

Yet creating an Official Date of Conception is inexpensive, and can be added insurance, especially because the only cost is for getting it notarized, and you can do it yourself without a patent attorney. But once again, please do not rely on this as your sole means of idea protection. In order to have any value, it must be supplemented by your entries in your log book and by due-diligence.

This document will NOT give you any legal protection. It is NOT a patent application. This document only helps to establish the date of your idea's "conception".

TIP: Please note that this will not work for you if you have conceived your idea at some past date and you have been working on and developing your idea for quite some time. Hopefully you have been keeping a logbook with proof of all your work and documentation of your "due diligence", but if not, then you can start keeping an inventors logbook, and start it with an entry of your "history". [See The Inventors Logbook.

TIP: As you develop your product's features and functions, use the "log book" to document your research, tests and changes to the product, and create an Official Date of Conception whenever your basic product design changes and is firmed up. It will be much more valuable to you if the description and illustration resembles your actual product.

WARNING: Please be careful with companies that offer to file this document for you, claiming that it will protect your idea. Some product development scam companies may charge thousands of dollars to file this document for you, misleading people into believing that a patent application is being filed on their idea. It's something that you can do yourself for free, with a small cost for a notary public.

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