Protection of postdoc's idea

cotegl at cotegl at
Tue Jan 2 12:00:19 EST 1996

In article <4c77pb$3d2 at>, nobody at REPLAY.COM says...
>I am a postdoc in a lab in academia. I have an idea for a project with
>considerable financial potential, but I want to make sure my advisor
>doesn't get all the money and glory. How can I insure that I am on any
>patents that come out of this and that I am financially compensated to 
>It seems like us hard-working postdocs come up with the ideas, do the
>work, and the PI gets all the reward. I want to prevent this from
>happening. In fact, if possible, I'd prefer my boss didn't get any 
>from this whatsoever, since I am very unhappy with the treatment I have
>been receiving from him.

I read your post on protecting your ideas, as well as Berezin's reply.   
If you publish, he is correct, you will lose any patent rights.   
Instead, write down your ideas in your own notebook, and have a neutral  
third party (within your lab, if possible) whom you trust to co-sign and 
date the entry.  This will  document the conception of the idea.  In the 
intellectual property arena,  documentation is the key.  Remember, 
though, as a postdoc of Dr.  Whomever, you do have some obligations to 
him.  Besides any legal, contractual obligations you may have as an 
employee of your institution, you also owe him at least a chance.  He has 
taken a chance on you and given you an opportunity to be paid to practice 
science.  An  idea is probably the most critical step in the invention 
process,  but not the only one.  Reduction to practice is often the 
hardest  and most time-consuming aspect.  Without the chance to make your 
idea  work, it is next to worthless.  That is where your boss comes in.  
 He may have the experience to help you put the idea into practice,  and 
to turn it into a working invention.  Don't assume your boss will  steal 
your ideas, but don't be too trusting, either.  Document everything  you 
do, and get it signed and dated by a witness periodically.  Make sure  
someone you know and trust is aware of what you are doing, and if you  
feel your boss is not giving you due credit, let him know.  (Maybe he's  
just dumb about working with other people; scientists are not famous for 
 their people skills. Never attribute to malice that which can be  
explained by ignorance.)   Alternatively, you could keep you ideas to 
yourself until you can find a  job situation where you feel more 
comfortable about sharing them.
But be sure to document everything - lab experiments, notes from  
meetings, letters to other investigators, etc.  Trust is no substitute  
for proof.  And finally, if the idea really does turn out to be valuable, 
a patent lawyer will probably become involved.  Be sure he/she knows all 
about the roles everyone played in the invention process.  Someone who 
merely supervised an inventor without contributing anything to the 
creative process has no legal rights to inventorship, although ownership 
of licensing rights is determined by your contract with the University. 
Greg Cote

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