Protecting Your Renewable Energy Idea

Great opportunity exists for developers of new technologies addressing climate change. However, with opportunity, there is risk for the entrepreneur. What do you need to do to protect your ideas from poaching from others?

A nondisclosure agreement -- also called an NDA or a confidentiality agreement -- is a contract in which the parties promise to protect the confidentiality of secret information that is disclosed during a business transaction. If you make a nondisclosure agreement with someone who uses your secret without authorization, you can request a court to stop the violator from making any further disclosures and you can sue for damages.

Important elements in a nondisclosure agreement may include the following:

  • definition of confidential information
  • exclusions from confidential information
  • obligations of receiving party
  • agreement that the receiving party not compete with the disclosing party for a period of time
  • agreement that the receiving party will not use another technology to compete with the disclosing party
  • agreement that the receiving party will not solicit employees of customers of the disclosing party

A nondisclosure agreement protects any type of trade secret -- that is, any information that is not generally known and gives your business a competitive advantage in the marketplace. For example, using a nondisclosure agreement, you can prohibit someone from disclosing a secret invention design, an idea for a new website or confidential material contained in a copyrighted software program.

The real purpose of NDAs is to create a confidential relationship between a person who has a trade secret and the person to whom the secret is disclosed. People who have such a confidential relationship are legally bound to keep the information a secret.

If you have a new, useful and unobvious way of solving a technology problem, the you may seek patent protection. A patent is a document, issued by the federal government, that grants to its owner a legally enforceable right to exclude others from practicing the invention described and claimed in the document. The described invention must be new i.e., not invented first by another or identically known or used by others in this country or patented or published anywhere in the world before the actual invention date (not the application filing date). The invention also must be useful i.e., serve some disclosed or generally known purpose.