If I pitch my idea to a company, what are my rights?


I recently came up with what I believe is a great idea which builds on a specific technology already existing in the marketplace. I believe it represents a completely new use for the technology and would require significant modifications and R&D work. The company owns a patent on the original technology. As I cannot develop the new idea on my own without infringing on the company's patent, I have set up a time to pitch my concept to the company that owns the patent. If the company uses my idea to develop a new product line, do I own the intellectual property rights? Should I receive a royalty of new profits generated by the new line? Do terms need to be discussed before I pitch the idea to the company?

Legal Intellectual Property

asked Jun 9 '11 at 15:25
Aaron Lindeman
46 points
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5 Answers


Pitching an idea to a company doesn't legally block it from telling you "it's a great idea, we'll implement it without you. goodbye".

If you could make them sign a paper saying anything you reveal in the meeting they cannot use unless they A,B & C.... that would be great - however, who in his right mind would sign something like that before hearing what it's about?

You're going to have to take your chances my friend. Hope your value as the idea-person is so big on this that it would be counter-economic for them to ditch you and steal your idea. if you can't secure that position and you're just the guy with the "bonanza idea" but nothing further, you're at the mercy of their morality. Businesses don't thrive on morality.

Good luck.

answered Jun 9 '11 at 15:30
Ron M.
4,224 points


You have no legal rights to your idea in this case. It's just an idea. Now, you could go out and try to patent your idea in advance...but this doesn't seem too realistic. If you can't trust this company to not steal your idea, then maybe this company isn't the best company to be working with.

However, having them sign a non-disclosure agreement I think would be very unprofessional. Rather, I can't see why they'd want to work with you since you're making THEM go through overhead to benefit YOU. While it is a legally feasible solution, I wouldn't recommend it.

answered Jun 9 '11 at 18:29
Casey Patton
131 points


What if we ask the questions differently? What if we ask -- "How do I maximize the opportunity to work with the company rather than have them choose to implement without me?"

Here are some of my ideas:

  • Find a respected mentor with connection to the target company. Enroll him as your mentor and protector. Having your entrance to the company from a trusted advisor will increase your chance of building a long term connection.
  • Make it about more than your idea. Make it about the increased value it provides to them and their customers.
  • Make it as much a win-win as possible. Asking the company to invest in a JV where they invest the right to use their patent and in exchange have an opportunity for the right of first refusal to purchase you out.
  • Treat the pitch as 50% job interview and 50% sales. Convince them that you are a good person to invest some energy in. That you are open to their ideas, recommendations and suggestions. That you could be a valuable asset. Let them start thinking of and exploring the ways they could engage you.
  • Honor the audacity with humor. Acknowledge that it is audacious to walk into their company boldly proposing ways to increase the value of their IP. Make a joke or two about it. Make it the special lovable sauce about you.

I am sure that there are many other ways to increase your chances of making the pitch and not being robbed blind -- or even worse dismissed without thought. Develop a plan -- and execute it -- in the process demonstrating that you are a right person for them to take a unique chance on.

answered Jun 10 '11 at 13:36
Joseph Barisonzi
12,141 points


I recently did something similar. I pitched an app idea to a publications company. So its their IP. I had a lawyer negotiate a royalty and while organising the contract they pulled out. I have options to take them to court if i can get a probono lawyer.

One thing i did right - I didnt sign their NDA which required me to delete all correspondence post termination of the relationship. you can sign this but only once your contract is signed with them.

What i would do differently, I would get a lawyer first before pitching the idea. I had a contract lawyer but i should have had someone who specialised in IP and technology.

answered Oct 29 '12 at 14:14
21 points


Having an idea and presenting it to people is no guarantee that you have a "monopoly" over its implementation, until you can back the idea with patents, prototypes and the like. Or, you could make the people you show your idea to sign a non-disclosure agreement (something that no VCs will ever sign these days - remember, they control the purse strings and with only an "idea" they have the upper hand).

Making a plan around your idea, executing it to a prototype stage and then going to the VC and other people would do a lot better at protecting your rights. Because at this stage, you are now talking to them as someone who is more "equal".

answered Jun 10 '11 at 19:34
174 points

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