Can you sell an idea to a company without a patent? Yes, you can sell an idea to a company without a patent. However, the company needs to enter into a contract such as a nondisclosure agreement (NDA). Otherwise, they can steal your idea. Unfortunately, many companies will not enter into an NDA. As such, you may need to get at least a patent application on file to pitch your idea.
Let’s discuss the specifics.
How to sell or license your idea without a patent?
You can sell an idea to a company without a patent. You need a way to stop them from stealing the idea from you. One way to do that without a patent is with a nondisclosure agreement, aka NDA. The NDA would limit the company’s ability to use your idea without paying you for it.
Here is a simplified version of how that would work.
You approach the company and ask them to enter into a nondisclosure agreement with you. If they sign the NDA, they cannot tell others about the idea. Otherwise, they will breach the contract. If they do tell others without your consent, you can sue them for breach of contract. The NDA stops the company from using your idea without paying you for it.
Unfortunately, most sophisticated companies won’t enter into an NDA with you. For example, New Balance and Coca-Cola all take idea submissions from people like you. However, they will not enter into an NDA with you.
Why would they?
An NDA is an invitation to a lawsuit. Nondisclosure agreements require them to keep things secret. If it even looks like they stole your idea or invention, then they might have a lawsuit on their hands. Because most ideas are not worthwhile, you are required to make your disclosure on a non-confidential basis. You have to protect it with a patent or trademark.
Companies have a policy of non-confidentiality
Here are the idea submission policies of two companies.
New Balance Idea Submission Policy
Here is New Balance’s idea submission policy. They are very blunt about it. “Your ideas are … submitted on a non-confidential basis.” They tell you to get a patent first.