Understanding Ideas and Inventions
Learn more about what makes an idea an "invention," what makes a researcher an "inventor," and whether an idea is patentable or not.
Intellectual property (IP) is any product of the human mind that has value in the marketplace. Intellectual property includes patented inventions, software and other copyrighted works, trademarks, trade secrets and know-how. The owner of IP can be rewarded for its use in commerce, and this encourages further innovation to the benefit of society.
Unlike determinations of authorship, which is collegial and based on academic standards and traditions, inventorship is guided by a legal definition. An inventor is one who conceived the invention or used sufficient creativity to reduce it to practice.
Before an invention becomes patentable it must be conceptualized and reduced to practice, or described with detailed drawings, procedures and instructions so that others could make the invention. In other words, an idea alone is insufficient for patenting, it must be demonstrated that the invention works.
Not all inventions are patentable. A patentable invention must be:
NOVEL: The novelty requirement means that the invention must be new and cannot have been publicly known. Public disclosure of the invention has a negative effect on the patentability of an invention. You are advised to contact the Office of Technology Development to avoid inadvertent loss of patent rights due to public disclosure.
USEFUL: The invention must have at least one specific use.
NON-OBVIOUS: The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office says: “The subject matter sought to be patented must be sufficiently different from what has been used or described before that it may be said to be non-obvious to a person having ordinary skill in the area of technology related to the invention.
Your invention could have commercial value if:
It has the potential to solve a problem and meet a known or emerging market need
It broadens the use of, or enables new applications for, a previous invention
The key is to articulate the value proposition for an industry partner. An industry partner needs to recognize and accept that they can profit from selling a product based on your invention. In some cases, an unpatented invention can still have significant value for the same reasons listed above. Please contact the OTD if you have questions.
You should contact the OTD when you have conceived of a novel invention and before a public disclosure is made. Examples of public disclosures include poster presentations, thesis presentations, oral presentations at meetings, written research papers, grant abstracts, web page descriptions, email communications, and phone calls with colleagues not employed by the MCW. Once an idea is disclosed publicly, international patent rights are lost, although protection in the US may still be available. Please contact the OTD prior to making a public disclosure and an OTD staff member will respond within two business days.
- Evaluate new discoveries, provide feedback
- Protect your IP via patents and/or copyrights, venture all costs
- Identify commercial partners; negotiate license agreements, monitor for compliance
- Distribute licensing revenue per MCW policy (faculty, depts.)
- Document all new inventions and file Invention Disclosure Form
- Participate in patent drafting & responding to all patent office actions
- Assist in preparation of marketing materials & meet with potential partners
- Remain active in the further development of the technology