Good Job & Good Idea - What would U do?

If you had a good job offer for say at a Golf Club company where you would be designing clubs and accessories and before you started, you already have a great, marketable idea for a new related Golf Club accessory in your idea journal - would you:

1- hold your idea on the shelf and not pursue it until x years after leaving the golf club company?
2- let the golf club company know before your first day, you have this idea by approaching them like you would any other you would try to sell an idea to?
3- get a provisional patent on it before starting the company and develop on the side, independent of the company?
4- get a provisional patent on it before starting the company and then once started, approach the company if they want to buy it?

Here are my issues with the all 4:

1-How long do you plan on working there for? What’s to say they aren’t already working on a similar product or that someone else won’t patent something similar before then? More importantly have you done due diligence to ensure that something like this hasn’t already existed?
2-To this day I have never heard of anyone in the industry buying an unsolicited ideas. If they are hiring you they would want you to design it for them.
3- You can do this, but a provisional patent only lasts so long. If you are developing a competing product on the side this will most likely be viewed as a conflict of interest, even if you had your idea “first”.
4-Again, the buying of ideas is not a common or desired occurrence. I can not go to my boss and say “I had this great idea for a computer that I patented back in college. I’ll let you build it for $10k” he would probably have me escorted off the premises.

My suggestions would be:

5 - Propose the idea after a few months of working at the company when you have earned credibility and had time to develop and refine the idea. Patent it through your company.
6- If your idea is good enough, don’t waste your money on the patent at this point (which isn’t going to protect you from leagues of Chinese knockoffs) and build the product yourself.

All of your ideas come off as “I have an idea and I want to maximize the money off it by doing as little work as possible and exploiting my employer for money or experience”.

You should also be very careful of any hiring paperwork you need to sign including non competes.

It would be a full time staff position.

If I have a good, utility-based, idea sketched up and get a full time job at a company where my idea could have a market, why should I just give it to them if I created it before I ever thought of working there?

The toy industry buys ideas through inventor agents. Also, you can sell your ideas through an invention agent (not the ones on t.v.).

Problem with 5 is that anyone at the company could claim your idea was influenced by what you were doing in the company and therefore the company has claim to the idea.
Problems with 6 is then you have to go into the mfg., logisitics, ordering, selling business, takes mucho time and business skills to manage.

In my company, you have to disclose any IP you have when starting the company for conflicts of interest. Not sure if that would apply here.

You can file for IP before starting working at the company, but like I said if you develop it while you’re there it will most likely be viewed again as a conflict of interest. Who’s to say you’re not using knowledge gained at the company to influence or modify your idea? Even if you file the provisional patent application that implies that you are going to file the actual patent within the year, otherwise you have publicly disclosed it and it is no longer your idea. Because you are filing the provisional application the company now knows that they have less than a year to do anything with it, and unless they see the brilliance they are more than welcome to pass on it and then you have to file the patent yourself or let it become public domain.

You are welcome to try any of your ideas…but be wary that you may just create bad blood, have no one acknowledge your idea, and be shown the door if it’s in any way viewed as some type of breach or conflict of interest.

Then don’t worry about it and move on to the next idea.

Are you in it for only personal glory and nothing else?
Do you get any sense of pride for contributing to a team effort knowing something you contributed to became a success?

If your answers are Yes and No respectively, I’d probably never hire you, personally.

I would protect any idea first and then license it to the company or any other takers later. It’s very easy for you to get nothing if you don’t protect yourself first. I’m more inclined to do 3 or 4. Tell anyone about it before establishing first to conceive patent rights and you risk getting screwed. Do this after you get hired and you may be dealing with work-for-hire terms where they feel your ideas were developed while working for them and thus they own it.


I am definitely a team player and not an ego hogging maniac designer. I am not greedy either.

In this day and age of uncertainty in the workplace, I think about other avenues to keep going. I am an ethical designer, that’s why I am bothering to broach the subject here.

If you believe in your idea enough to sway you from taking a full-time job in this economy…Patent it, then take the job. :slight_smile:

Glad to hear I was wrong.

At the end of the day a patent is only as good as the idea it protects.

I remember they had some show my fiancée was watching on women inventors trying to get their ideas to market. At the start of the show they always give a pitch on what work they have done thus far, and every time someone started with “Oh I invested $90k into this patented idea” they ultimately wound up with a novel but stupid or unmarketable idea.

My reason for suggestion #5 is based on several realities.

1-Patents are expensive, and even if you patent the idea yourself, you more than likely will never have enough money to fund a proper corporate legal team to defend that IP if it were infringed. A large company does.

2-If it is your idea and you disclose it, you will still be credited as the primary innovator but the company foots the bill. You have now provided value to their IP portfolio but still are named on the patent. (FWIW we are compensated for all IP, and that bonus is worth more to me then the knowledge that I spent thousands to own the patent)

3-If this job is more than a short term stint then by creating value for the company you have created value for yourself as an employee. That means justification for merit increases, promotions, etc. You are creating opportunity for yourself within the company in exchange for their help in bringing your idea to market.

The product is always worth more than the idea. As you said yourself, thats the hard part that requires substantial work from dozens of people other than you. If you think you are entitled to the product without either doing all that work yourself, or giving something up in the process (in this case ownership of the idea/IP) it really doesn’t work that way. You would probably find yourself 3 years down the road with a patent you sunk lots of money into and can’t do anything with, and no job.

I take more pride in knowing that when I walk into a store and see my products on a wall, that I helped birth those products. It’s never been a thought that ran through my head of “But I don’t own the right to use this idea anymore and it was my idea”.

All good points. But I guess I am talking about bringing the idea to an inventor agent like Quirky where if there was interest, would partner in doing the manufacture, detail development, etc. and bring it to market, and the inventor/designer gets a share. A more modest share than doing it all yourself, but a share none the less.

Dont do Quirky. If you do anything like those start up website things do Kickstarter.

You need to come down to what’s important to you and what’s realistic. Option 5 seems to be the most ethical and realistic option that’s been discussed. I’m not sure why you would be so caught up in the idea that someone “might” steal your great idea within the company. Either way, the company owns the idea in the case of option 5.

Unless you know you can take a concept from idea to commercialization, that idea is worth nothing to you. An idea is just an end result and captures one point in time. What makes you valuable is your process of discovery and your ability to solve problems. I see many young designers get hung up on IP and the whole “full of awesome” ideas that they lose sight of why they’re designers.

Like NURB, I would not be hiring a designer that has these kinds of ethical concerns.

Does anyone think there is a conflict of interest if one is developing products outside of work, and conceived before they started there, that are totally unrelated to their employer’s products?

No, but just to be sure you should let the company know. Who knows, maybe in the CEO’s 10 year plan they plan on leveraging their technology and getting into this seemingly unrelated industry. This is second hand, so don’t take it as absolute fact, but I had a professor who worked at Kodak andhe said they had a “first right of refusal” policy for these situations. If you worked for Kodak and had an idea for a golf club, you would take the idea to legal (or whatever the appropriate department was), and if they deemed it truly unrelated to Kodak’s current and future interests they’d sign off on you having full rights to it. I’m not sure of the technicalities, like if it was truly a first right of refusal situation where you own the idea and they get first dibs, or if they own the idea initially and sign the rights over to you.

This way you never have to worry about where you stand legally, and if they decide the idea as relevant to the company it’s clear you came up with it on your own time and should hopefully by recognized and compensated accordingly (a bonus, raise, etc). I’m sure this has left many frustrated when their ideas went nowhere after the company denied them rights, but this isn’t much different than the many projects we do that never see the light of day, or features that never make it to the final product. Coming up with ideas is a big part of what we do.

I see where you’re coming from in your initial post - you’ve done independent work and would like to be compensated if anything comes of it, but as you know bringing a product to market takes a whole lot more than an idea. Option 5 might not have the full win you’re looking for, but if the idea is good it could pay off long term at the company. And there’s no risk, financially or business relationship-wise.

Like if you designed trays for school lunchrooms at B.I.G. Tray Co. and designed/manafactured automobile exhaust tips for your own company, the L.I.T.T.L.E. Exhaust Tip Co? If you were fielding calls/doing sketches while B.I.G were paying you the answer is yes, but the main issue is not committing fully to B.I.G. B.I.G wants you to be discovering for them 24-7. L.I.T.T.L.E. occupies your thoughts during B.I.G.'s hours and that is a no no.

My suggestion would be full disclosure before you accept the position - especially if a related product category. You do not have to share full scope of idea/invention but discuss what company’s open innovation or inventor submission policy and procedures are. Full disclosure draws that ‘line in the sand’ and avoids any confusion or ambiguity later on, especially if through working there you gain additional consumer or market data that informs evolution of core idea. Remember coming up with an idea is just a small part of bringing the idea to life as a developed, marketable, distributed and successful product. Unless you are prepared to personally take on this risk, then a good first step is to have the conversation with your prospective employer.

My suggestion would be > full disclosure > before you accept the position - especially if a related product category.

Best advice yet.

And frankly, it reveals a lot more about your personal character than interview questions might uncover. Not to mention removing any of those niggling, back-of-the-mind doubts about where you stand if you are hired.

Ok so,

A- If you have entered any design competitions for “muffler tips” where results are pending, and you are tendering a full time offer from a “muffler tip” manufacturer, you should disclose from the outset that you entered said competition before taking the job.

B- You should disclose all competitions where results are pending you entered prior to taking the job.

C- As a full time, employed IDer you should refrain from entering any competitions even if they have nothing to do with what your doing in your full time ID job.

Also becareful of when you conduct these outside opportunities as well as what you’re doing them on. If you do your work on a company computer, they may have claim to your work even if it is unrelated.