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Non-Disclosure (Confidentiality) Agreements

By Stephen Paul Gnass

The "Non-Disclosure Agreement" sounds confusingly similar to the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office's "Disclosure Document Program". Yet they are completely different and unrelated.

A Non-Disclosure Agreement (also known as a "Confidentiality Agreement") is used when someone with an unpatented idea shows it to another party, and wants that party to maintain as confidential any information he learns about the product as a result of the meeting.

The inventor draws up the non-disclosure agreement and has the other party sign that he/she will not disclose any of the information to anyone else, and will not market the idea or compete with you.

In the very early stages, we advise against indiscrimately signing any Non-Disclosure Agreements with any product development companies, service providers, investors, venture capitalists, licensees, etc.


During the initial phases of working on your new idea, you will generally not need to reveal your idea to anyone. There is a way to talk to people about your idea without ever telling them what it is or how it works! For example, let's say that your idea is "a toothbrush with a long, curved handle which reaches further into the mouth to get at hard to reach spots, and extra long bristles made out of natural materials to stimulate the gums". Instead of revealing so much information, you can simply say that you have developed a "new type of toothbrush", or a "new teeth cleaning device" or an "oral hygiene tool".

With these brief phrases, you have provided a "general" picture of what your product is, but it is so general and vague that you have not given away any secret details or features about your product or how it works.

If someone asks you more in-depth questions after you have provided a short phrase such as the one above, just explain that you are not able to disclose any additional information about the product at this time.

TIP: Keep the details of your new idea secret until you have at least a patent pending, especially during the period when you are not protected and are shopping for services.

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