Asked in Patents (Intellectual Property) for Illinois

Q: If you have an unpatented idea, but proof that you submitted it to someone, can you claim the patent?

I presented an idea in the MIT Whiteboard Challenge in early 2012. The idea was for an electric bicycle. A few months later, there was a company creating similar electric bicycles and raising money via crowdfunding. Recently they were purchased by another larger company for an undisclosed amount. I've read some, but wasn't sure. Since I created the idea, submitted it and others knew of it prior to the patent dates that they filed in 2013, do I technically have a proof of idea creation that would stand up?

1 Lawyer Answer
Peter D. Mlynek
Peter D. Mlynek
  • Patents Lawyer
  • Moorestown, NJ

A: A couple of points.

When you come up with an invention, you have 3 choices to make. One, you can patent it, so that everyone will know about it, but you can keep others from using your invention. Two, you can keep it a secret, so that nobody will know about it. Three, you can disclose it, talk about it, and present it at shows, so that others can know about it. You made the third choice. You cannot patent it. Others cannot patent it. Anyone can use your invention as they see fit. It is in the public domain.

Further, ideas cannot be patented. A patent is obtained for an invention, meaning that the inventor actually makes the article/method/manufacture or describes it in enough detail that others can make it. Ideas are dime a dozen; it is the step of making it that makes it an invention.

Finally, as you know, electric bikes have been around for over a hundred years. The idea of an electric bike is thus not new. But the way that you put your electric bike together might have been new and patentable.

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