If, for some reason, you want to patent an idea, but would not be ready to begin the patent application process in a reasonable time - but you want some protection of your patent idea - there is a service provided by the USPTO that will accept papers signed by the inventor that discloses the invention (“Disclosure Document”).

This Disclosure Document (“DD”) is accepted as evidence of the dates of conception of the invention idea. The document will be kept and preserved by the USPTO for two years - and then be destroyed - UNLESS - the document is referred to in a separate letter, in a related patent application, that is filed within the two years.

Meaning, of course, if you file a Disclosure Document, you have two years to file an application on that particular patent idea. If you don’t file to patent an idea in that period of time, you lose.

The Disclosure Document IS NOT a patent application in any manner - and the date of its receipt at the USPTO does not become the effective filing date of any patent application. It is only one form of evidence that you (the inventor) are the one who came up with the patent idea at a particular date in time.

Since the American system recognizes the first to invent - this is a critical date at this time. There are forces in the US (say corporations, or even corporate fascists) that want to change the critical time from first to invent to first to file - which gives way too much advantage to the “person” with bundles of money and a team of lawyers. But at this time, first to invent to patent an idea is still the standard.

The benefit of a Disclosure Document depends on how well the patent idea is described - so it is recommended that the disclosure be clear and complete in explaining the manner and process of making and using the invention. A drawing or sketch should be included - if it fits the nature of the invention.

To facilitate the electronic scanning and storage of the Disclosure Document, it is required that the document be on white paper of a size no larger than 8-1/2 x 11 inches, with each page numbered. the text and drawings must be “sufficiently dark to permit reproduction with commonly used office copying machines.” Oversized papers will not be accepted - nor will attachments such as videotapes and working models.

Along with the Disclosure Document there must be a separate, signed, cover letter that states that the DD is submitted by, or on behalf of the actual inventor(s) - and, requesting that the material (DD) be received into the Disclosure Document program.

Note that the original documents submitted will not be returned. What you get back is a notice with an ID number and the date of receipt. Make sure you have copies from which to work to fulfill your requirement to patent an idea and develop your patent application within two years of the date of receipt.

Again, the Disclosure Document can only be relied upon as evidence of invention date - and an application must be filed to gain patent protection.

This procedure in a way takes the place of the “Poor Man’s Patent.” There is an Old Wives Tale that you could protect your invention if you sent a copy of your patent idea to yourself - tightly sealed - by Registered Mail - and never opened it. This only offers a form of evidence that you had the idea within a certain time frame (like the DD) - but it is less reliable because it is sent to you - by you - so it could be argued that there has been hanky-panky involved. At least your DD in the Patent Office is in official hands.

Just remember - the clock starts ticking when you want to patent an idea.

It is sometimes easier to just start the application process and get on with it to patent an idea. You would get your patent sooner - if it is to be - and once the application is filed you are granted “patent pending” or “patent applied for” status - which gives you more protection than the Disclosure Document.