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The Disclosure Document Program
By Stephen Paul Gnass
MAILING A SELF-ADDRESSED, SEALED ENVELOPE TO YOURSELF:
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.
THE DISCLOSURE DOCUMENT PROGRAM:
To legally estalish the date of your idea's conception, you may consider registering a "Disclosure Document" with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (PTO). For $10.00 (check for rate changes), you can send this witnessed and notarized description of your invention with a sketch and a cover letter requesting that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office hold your papers on file for a period of two years.
Once the PTO receives it, they will send you a copy of your request with an ID number as proof that they have processed it. Be advised that the U.S. Patent & Trademark office states that the filing of 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". So even though it will remain on file for two years, it isn't intended to give you a two year buffer or protection.
Since the "Disclosure Document" 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 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 Disclosure Document is worthless. (A copy of the U.S. Patent & Trademark's brochure is enclosed for your convenience.)
Yet the Disclosure Document is so inexpensive that it is an excellent added insurance, especially because it costs only $10.00 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.
As mentioned, it will be held on file for two years and will then be destroyed unless it is referred to in a patent application which must be filed within the two-year period.
TIP: Don't rush to file the Disclosure Document if your basic product design is still incomplete. If you still aren't sure of all your product's features and functions, use the "log book" to document your research, tests and changes to the product, and file the Disclosure Document once your basic product design is firmed up. The Disclosure Document will be much more valuable to you if the description and illustration you send in closely resembles your final product. Naturally, you will still make changes after you send in the Disclosure Document. However, because you have thought-out your product before you sent in the Disclosure Document, your chances are better that the changes won't be radical.
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 charge thousands of dollars to file this $10.00 form, misleading people into believing that a patent application is being filed on their idea.To read the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office literature about how to file the Disclosure Document, click here.