Can a Patent Attorney Steal Your Idea?

Rich Goldstein

Founder & Principal Patent Attorney
A man in orange shirt holding a box with brain message and idea word

When inventing anything, you will need a patent to protect it; however, applying for a patent can be challenging and intricate. That is why, if you have the resources, engaging a patent attorney to support you is typically beneficial.

Inventors must disclose their inventions to obtain a patent, which is usually achieved by briefing a patent attorney. The attorney then prepares and files a patent application on behalf of the inventor. However, this process may come with worries: how safe is an invention in the hands of a patent attorney?

Can a patent attorney steal your idea? I understand it can be confusing to know the exact laws around this; that’s why I have the answers below.

Today, I will address this concern, discussing whether patent attorneys can steal your idea. Whilst they are legally bound to act in your best interests, as well as ensure the confidentiality of your information, I will find out what, if anything, stops a patent attorney from stealing ideas from their clients. 

Can Patent Attorneys Steal Your Idea?

No, patent attorneys can’t steal your idea. They are bound by ethical rules and regulations that prohibit them from stealing or misusing client information. Additionally, patent attorneys are invested in protecting their client’s intellectual property, as their reputation and livelihood depend on it.

Here are some additional things to keep in mind:

  • Patent attorneys must sign a confidentiality agreement with their clients, which means they are legally bound to keep all client information confidential.
  • Patent attorneys are subject to disciplinary action by their state bar association if caught stealing or misusing client information.
  • Patent attorneys are financially incentivized to protect their client’s intellectual property, as their reputation and livelihood depend on it.

The Patent Would be Rejected

If a patent attorney stole an invention from their client, they would not be able to patent it as they would not be the original inventor.

It’s important to note that patents are issued to the initial inventor, so if an attorney were to declare themselves as the inventor, they would be breaking the law. Only those who contributed to the invention or idea can claim a patent. 

Virtuous Morality

There is also the moral aspect to take into account. The relationship between a patent attorney and a client is one of trust. After all, the client hires the attorney to receive assistance in securing a patent for their invention. The attorney pledges to act diligently in the client’s best interest throughout the patent pursuit process.

If a patent attorney steals their client’s idea, the trust is broken, and virtues such as honesty, integrity, compassion, fairness, and respect go out of the window. This will ultimately damage the attorney’s reputation, likely to a state of no return. Think about it – would you want the services of an attorney with a history of being morally corrupt? We doubt it. 

A man in brown long sleeve signing a contract

Ethical Guidelines 

Attorneys must follow state laws and rules of ethics when working with and serving clients. They have a duty to maintain their client’s confidential information, both legally and ethically. 

“A practitioner shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent…”  

Non-client inventors who have simply contacted an attorney for advice are also covered by these obligations

“When no client-practitioner relationship ensues, a practitioner who has had discussions with the prospective client shall not use or reveal information learned in the consultation…” 

A code of ethical behavior light sign

How to Protect a Patent 

In most cases, clients will not have any issues when working with a patent attorney. Unfortunately, there are unethical individuals in the world that may want access to your invention. That means you’ll need to protect your patent and yourself.

The best protection method is to carefully record and document the initial creation and development of the invention and make an early application. Here’s how I record the development of my inventions:

  • Gather all relevant materials and documents – Collect any sketches, notes, or brainstorming sessions related to the invention’s initial creation and development.
  • Record the invention’s concept and ideas – Write a clear and concise description of the invention’s concept, including its purpose, intended functionalities, and potential benefits.
  • Date all records – Ensure that each document, sketch, or note is dated to establish a timeline of the invention’s creation and development.
  • Use a lab notebook or invention journal – Keep a dedicated notebook or journal to document the progress of the invention, noting any changes, breakthroughs, or challenges encountered during the development process.
  • Include supporting data and evidence – If applicable, include data, test results, or prototypes demonstrating the invention’s feasibility and progress.
  • Photographs and videos – Take pictures or record videos of prototypes, experiments, or other significant steps in the invention’s development.
A man in orange shirt holding a box with a brain word and a red idea word

The USPTO (United States Patent and Trademarks Office) fortunately allows inventors to file a preliminary patent application. However, this does not mean the patent is issued. Nevertheless, it is an essential first step to securing a patent and protecting an idea. This provisional patent application is fairly cheap, with the process being fast and relatively easy. 

Related Questions

Are My Ideas Protected by Patent Law?

Many inventors wonder if their ideas alone can be protected by patent law. Regarding laws and inventions, copyrights are designed to protect expressions, while patents are used to safeguard specific inventions. However, neither of these forms of protection extends to an individual’s ideas. Ideas alone do not qualify as inventions eligible for patent protection.

Is it Possible to Obtain a Patent and Keep the Invention Secret?

No, obtaining a patent and keeping it a secret is not possible. Patents are granted on the condition of full disclosure of the invention. Typically, the invention’s details are published and made accessible to the public.

Who Owns the Rights to a Specific Invention?

Patent rights are initially held by the inventor who conceived the invention unless the inventor transfers those rights to someone else or the courts apply the equitable principles of “hired-to-invent” or “shop rights.”

Conclusion 

The chances of having an idea stolen by a patent attorney are very small. Whilst they could, in theory, attempt to steal it, they would be risking their career and reputation. Simply put, the consequences of stealing a client’s patent significantly outweigh the benefits. 

Of course, you can take steps to ensure peace of mind. Hire an attorney with an excellent reputation and one you feel comfortable with. Choose the right attorney, and you can be one step closer to obtaining that all-important patent for your great idea!

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Is it Time to Protect Your Ideas?

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Join over 10,000 others who have asked us to help protect their ideas.

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