Innovation is critical to your business’s growth. You already have a system to mine your research and development for patentable inventions, but you have not received the volume of invention disclosures you expected.

One surprising source of friction in your patent pipeline could be your Invention Disclosure Form (IDF). An inventor-friendly IDF can help you overcome reluctance from your technical staff. A simpler form could improve both the quality and quantity of IDFs.

Here are some thoughts to keep in mind as you design, or re-design, your company’s IDF.

More Fields (in an IDF) May Not Always Be Merrier

Engineers, developers, and scientists love their research and design work. But that enthusiasm is lost when confronted with paperwork. If faced with a long, complex IDF, many will balk while a protectable invention could be lost forever.

Remember the purpose of obtaining patents is to stop your competitors from using the patented invention. You can gain a competitive advantage by patenting used and unused inventions. You will block your competitors from using all of them.

As a result, you want to encourage excess IDFs rather than suffering from under-disclosure. Any time your researchers come up with an idea, you want them to reach for your IDF to have it considered for patenting.

Most engineers will not fill out a confusing 50-question IDF. When developing your IDF, you should consider starting from the ground up, rather than paring down your existing IDF. Think about what is essential at this stage in the invention submission process and include only those fields in your IDF.  Shorter is better when looking for more participation.

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You Need to Mine a Lot of Rock to Find Precious Metals

Innovators refer to a “patent mining” process because it mimics mineral mining. You must sift through a lot of rubble to find the valuable materials.

Every enterprise will have different needs for their IDFs. Some may benefit from very short 1-page IDFs while others might need medium or long IDFs. But when designing your IDF, you should focus on what you need at this early stage.

IDFs are the first step to protecting your company’s innovations. By using a medium or long IDF, you risk:

  • Self-filtering: As developers fill out the IDF, they may second-guess their inventions. Developers may never complete the IDFs and turn them in.
  • Creating confusion: If your IDF has legal questions, like “how is this invention novel?” you are asking the inventor to become a patent attorney. A developer might not complete the IDF to avoid answering confusing questions.
  • Intimidating inventors: An inventor may avoid filling out an IDF simply because the invention is believed to be not developed enough to complete the form. By asking detailed questions about the invention, you might be asking too much of the inventors at this early stage.

A short IDF, such as this Invention Disclosure Form by TIP, can avoid all these problems. Your organisation might need to sift through more IDFs. But for most organisations, this additional filtering is preferable to leaving their inventors’ ideas untapped.

Building an Invention Disclosure Form Brick By Brick

Rather than thinking about other IDFs you have seen or used in your organisation, consider what you need to gather using an IDF. Your organisation uses IDFs for a few purposes:

  • Screen ideas for further product development
  • Capture innovative ideas to socialise them across the enterprise
  • Screen inventions for patentability analysis
  • Track the originators of inventions for employee incentive programs

Also note how your organisation does not use IDFs. An Invention disclosure Form is not:

  • A patent application
  • A marketing document to support the invention
  • An explanation to your patent attorney of why the invention is patentable

Some lengthy IDFs push inventors into writing a patent application, analysing their invention’s patentability, or arguing their invention’s merit. IDFs like this risk creating friction that will reduce the number of IDFs.

The essential fields for an Invention Disclosure Form include:

  • Identifier for the invention, such as a tracking number and title
  • Names of the inventors
  • Description of the invention

Some enterprises might need a slightly longer IDF. For example, an enterprise in a crowded industry might ask inventors to list related products. But the additional information needed in a medium IDF could probably be gathered with three or four additional fields.

The longest IDF forms often come from universities and enterprises where technical staff are accustomed to writing grants and papers. As part of their technology transfer programs, universities might require researchers and professors to give highly detailed IDFs. This will help the university monetize university-funded research.

Invention Disclosure Forms Are the Beginning, Not the End, of the Process

IDFs simply kick-off the process. If the invention is approved for patenting, the patent drafter can work with the inventors to gather the additional information needed to prepare an application. Facilitating engagement of inventors, in-house counsel/outside counsel on a single intellectual property management software can help reduce the communication gaps. Using a long IDF that requires all the information needed for a patent application will simply intimidate inventors from participating.

In many situations, the IDF drafting and the development of the corresponding product run on parallel tracks. As the developers refine the invention, the patent attorney can analyse the invention’s patentability. When it becomes time to file a patent application, the developers will probably have a better understanding of the invention from the ongoing development. They may have engineering documents, including diagrams or a white paper, that will help the patent drafter.

You do not need to start from scratch developing an IDF. Triangle IP has downloadable templates (word as well as excel formats) to get you started. And Triangle IP’s TIP tool provides options for customizing an IDF for your organisation in a new release that is coming soon.