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From time to time, I get an idea that seems (to me) marketable.  I don't need additional income, though I wouldn't refuse it.  But at my age, pursuing a patent or even researching "prior art" is not as much fun as other activities.

If I send a letter describing the idea to several companies that might want to produce it, is that sufficient "publishing" to prevent one of them from patenting and shutting out the others? If not, what would be the minimum effort needed to keep the idea free?  If it turns out to actually be useful, I want to ensure competition, instead of one company able to charge too much by being the only source.  But I don't want to put forth the effort to patent it myself and license it to everyone. Nor even the effort of sending a lot of detail to some trade journal.

Many of these ideas could be implemented without expensive resources, but a few would have to be done by a company with equipment.

I realize that an existing patent that I'm not aware of might keep it out of public domain. But generally, it's something that's not being done, implying it's either new or tried but didn't sell.

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If I send a letter describing the idea to several companies that might want to produce it, is that sufficient "publishing" to prevent one of them from patenting and shutting out the others?

That depends on the type of letter. It could be an offer to trade for the information as a trade secret, it could be the disclosure of a method.

what would be the minimum effort needed to keep the idea free?

Prior art is defined by availability to the public. If I invented a new way to make Widgets, that method would need to be available to the public. The cheapest and most efficient way to disseminate the method to create Widget is not to patent it, but to publish it in a scientific or technical magazine in the right area. This not just makes many people aware of it, but it also makes sure that any company worth it's salt might counterclaim any patent filed based on the paper.

From time to time, I get an idea that seems (to me) marketable.

Though, I need to pull this tooth of yours: 99% of all ideas that people think are marketable are either not developed enough to get to market, lack a market demand, or are already prior art. The Wheel has been reinvented countless times by countless people.

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  • Yeah, in college, I saw four people trying to carry a wheelchair down a narrow "flying" staircase and never told anyone my idea for a better way. Ten to twenty years later, almost the exact thing began appearing in staircases in USA. But my last paragraph shows I already know what your last paragraph said. Re: type of letter, doesn't my question (in bold) identify it as disclosure? I'll add some detail.
    – WGroleau
    Aug 20, 2022 at 20:04

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