I have recently come up with a very interesting concept in engineering that I would also like to share with peers. However, I am relatively fearful that someone may hear the idea and make it or patent it before I can. Thus, I would like to find a way to legally mark the idea as my own and make certain that no one can copy the concept and profit off of the copy.

The design concept is relatively simple. It would simply be how the device works ("chlorine gas is run through liquid x to produce y, which is taken to the magnetic gun", "water is used to make the metal behave like a conductor for when y is introduced"). I would like to lay claim. to this concept if possible. It has never been done before, thus, there is no worry about it being in public domain. I would just like it under my name.

Unfortunately, I am very low on money at the moment and could maybe only pay $200 to undergo whatever would be needed to claim the idea as my own. What options are available to me? How should I proceed? Thank you.

  • 1
    You cannot legally "mark an idea as your own" - implementations (via copyright, patents or trade secrets), yes, ideas, no. Ideas are cheap and easy, implementations are not. You can have other people sign an NDA and a non-compete before discussing the idea with them and then pursue them in court when they breach either of those things, but theres no way to register an idea as "yours".
    – user4210
    Aug 19, 2019 at 1:38
  • Could a copyright be used to defend a design as your own? This would be something like, "the argon leads to this conduit, where x happen, and goes to y terminal?"
    – t1r3d
    Aug 19, 2019 at 1:48
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    I will say it again, because this is something that happens regularly in my area of expertise (software development) - ideas are cheap. Get an implementation, then patent it (if its patentable - it may not be), and then you have protection. Trying to protect an idea is going to be very expensive with absolutely no guarantees - you will essentially be falling back on contract law, so you would have to prove breach of contract.
    – user4210
    Aug 19, 2019 at 1:53
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    What copyrights can protect is the expression of an idea - not the underlying idea. Copyright will not help you at all. Aug 19, 2019 at 1:58
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    If you have an idea, then copyright can protect the exact text that you used to write it down. However, the idea itself is not protected. So trying to use copyrights will not get you anywhere. Which is exactly what George White said, except it is expressed differently, so not violating his copyright.
    – gnasher729
    Aug 19, 2019 at 6:22

1 Answer 1


You can keep the idea/concept/invention confidential until you have enough money to file a patent.

People with no previous background who write and file their own patents do not often end up with the protection they desired but it is possible for you to make a serious study of patent law and patent office procedures. I recommend David Pressman's Patent It Yourself. It is not an easy path but the book + filing fees for as a micro-entiy will be about $200.

An alternative is to find a business partner/investor. I also recommend posting at patents.stackexchange.com for fewer uninformed comments regarding patents.

Also - the USPTO has regional pro bono programs. If you qualify, you can get free help from a patent attorney.

  • The OP is wanting to protect an idea, and that is not patentable in most of the world - uspto.gov/patents-getting-started/… (I can post more links if desired).
    – user4210
    Aug 19, 2019 at 2:14
  • An "idea" is not patentable but most people use the word idea to refer to an invention. Thinking that a particular result would be desirable is not an patentable idea/concept/invention. Having a specific way to accomplish the result is patentable. The OP mentions "a very interesting concept in engineering". That sounds like something patentable. Aug 19, 2019 at 15:16
  • @moo: look at the chlorine gas example in the question. Assuming nobody is using chlorine gas in that way, I can certainly see how to draft the claims for that patent. And presumably the person who came up with the idea also knows why that is useful.
    – MSalters
    Aug 20, 2019 at 21:55

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