Inventors sometimes ask me if it would be better to keep improvements secret, especially when it comes to process improvements in the chemical industry. A patent is only valid for 20 years. However, some processes or recipes, such as the one for Coca-Cola, need to be kept secret indefinitely. But what if an improvement is stolen by a research partner, a former employee or a competitor? In this blog I will explain the advantages of an i-DEPOT.
A quick warning before we go on
An i-DEPOT is not a patent and therefore does not protect the invention. If protection is required, always opt for a patent!
So when to opt for an i-DEPOT?
An i-DEPOT makes sense as long as the invention is secret because then it is hard to prove that you already had certain information in your possession at any given time. This is exactly where an i-DEPOT can help.
How does an i-DEPOT work?
In the past it was already possible to submit a physical i-DEPOT envelope to BOIP, the Benelux Office for Intellectual Property, but now it is also possible to do so in a digital format. You can think of this as an online filing cabinet, in which you can store a wide variety of documents. From technical drawings to transcripts of crucial meetings; you can upload them all. The documents are not checked or reviewed, they are just safely stored and date stamped. The contents of the cabinet are recorded and remain secret until they are used as proof.
What are the advantages for me?
An i-DEPOT is very useful in collaborations and negotiations. For example, it is very easy to link a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) to an i-DEPOT. If there is any retrospective discussions about the origin of an idea, you will have strong proof in your possession.
An i-Depot is also useful as proof of prior use.
Right of prior use
Suppose you are using a technology in your production line that you keep secret to the outside world. A competitor then develops a similar technology but decides to patent it and orders you to stop your production line. You will still be allowed to use your technology through the right of prior use. In order to qualify for this, you must, among other things, demonstrate that you invented the technology yourself before your competitor filed the patent. This is often where the problem lies, because such information is often no longer anywhere to be found within the company. An i-DEPOT can then be the answer. Read more about the right of prior use here
Work with your patent attorney
However, it is important to record the correct information in an i-DEPOT. Too little information, and you will still not have enough proof. If you provide too much information and then use the i-DEPOT as proof, you will end up disclosing more information than you want.
Remember that i-DEPOTS are particularly useful at the beginning of the process. What do you keep and what do you not keep? What do you share and with whom? Does this fit in with the patent strategy? There are so many challenges that I strongly recommend that you consult your patent attorney beforehand about everything you want to store in an i-DEPOT. They have professional secrecy, so it is safe for you to discuss the choice between patent and i-DEPOT and how to use the i-DEPOT with them.
Together, we will make sure that you have the right documentation on file and that you will be able to reduce your intellectual property problems in the future.