In a previous blog post, we recommended using IDRs to help document your company’s ownership of an invention.
You might be wondering: what does “IDR” stand for? Well, there’s no official term for the thing we’re talking about. It might go by the name “Invention Disclosure Record” or “IDR” or “Invention Disclosure Form” or “IDF” or “Invention Disclosure Memo” — or something else altogether. These all mean the same thing. We’re going to call it an IDR.
In this post, we’ll take a closer look at what information a strong IDR should contain. Most companies provide an IDR template for their inventors to fill out, but if your company doesn’t have a template, you can use the information in this post as a guide to writing an IDR from scratch, or download our free template for immediate use.
What is an invention disclosure record (IDR)?
Simply put, an IDR is a formal business record of an invention.
The IDR should include the relevant facts and circumstances surrounding the invention, such as inventors’ names and dates.
Also, the IDR should comprehensively describe how the invention, and provide the information that allows the company to determine whether the invention might fulfill the requirements of patentability. In a nutshell, the company’s patent committee and patent lawyers should be able to see that the invention is new and non-obvious, while the invention itself should be explained in a way that enables anyone with ordinary skill in the field to make and use it.
Why do we need to submit an IDR?
In addition to being a formal business record for the company, IDRs are also the primary tool used to initiate the patent process.
The patent committee will use the IDR to decide if pursuing patent protection is the right next step — and if yes, they’ll send the IDR to the company’s attorneys to use as a basis for drafting the patent application.
The IDR can subsequently be used (for example, in a litigation context) to formally establish dates of invention, inventorship, invention scope, and prior art.
IDRs can help you streamline the patent process in the following ways:
- Speed: With an IDR on hand, you can expedite the process between conceiving the invention and actually filing a patent application.
- Efficiency: Because you’ve already recorded all pertinent information, everyone involved spends less time tracking down what they need to fulfill each step of the patent process. You’ll also end up with fewer iterations of the same invention.
- Better technical disclosure generally leads to improved content in your patent applications.
- Better factual disclosure (inventorship, dates, etc.) can help you to avoid landmines later on, when patent applications are actually filed.
What information should our IDR include?
An effective IDR will contain the following nine elements:
1. Title of invention
The title of your invention doesn’t need to be super fancy. It’s just a name to broadly capture the substance of the IDR, and differentiate the IDR from others.
There’s also no need to mimic formal legal language. For example, instead of “Method and System for Closing a Door Having Four Corners and a Handle,” you could just call your invention “Door Closure.”
2. Inventors’ names and contact information
Your IDR should include a detailed list (full legal name, contact information, employee ID, etc.) of every individual who’s made a substantive contribution to the invention. Ultimately, inventorship for a patent application is a legal question (based on the claims of the patent application) that should be formalized later in the patent process.
When in doubt about whether a person could be considered an inventor, it’s always better to include than to exclude that person on the IDR.
3. Significant dates
Your IDR should note the following important dates:
- When the invention was first conceived
- When the invention was first reduced to practice
- When the IDR was completed or submitted
4. Description of the invention
This is similar to the detailed description section of a patent application. The technical description of the invention is the real heart of the IDR; it should be thorough and comprehensive. It might take several days or weeks of writing to do it well.
One question we often get relates to audience — should the IDR explain every little detail, even stuff that’s well known in our field? There’s no precise answer to this, but here’s my standard advice: Write the IDR in a way that could be understood by your direct counterparts at another company in your industry.
In other words, don’t use internal company lingo, and don’t assume the reader knows about the history of your specific project. But do assume that the person reading it has some basic knowledge of the technology and state of the art. (Think of it as somewhere between an internal white paper and an industry journal publication.)
It’s also helpful to give some structure to what you’re writing.
To start, you should state the problem that your invention addresses. You’ll also want to describe the physical structure of your invention, and how it’s operated.
Next, you should provide a summary of the invention, where you’ll discuss why and how your invention is objectively different from the prior art:
- How is it different from the closest prior art?
- What technical advantages does it provide over the prior art?
- What key components do you believe are novel?
You should also include an explanation of any key terms used to describe your invention or how it works.
And a picture is worth a thousand words. Definitely include drawings or diagrams of the invention, and be sure to include them with all parts labeled. And if you have test data or photographs, include those as well.
Last but not least, you should discuss the results and advantages of using the invention. If you’ve considered alternative approaches, disclose those here as well.
5. Prior art
Include a list of known, relevant prior art that either helped lead to the invention itself, or which indicate that some aspects of the invention are already known.
6. Public disclosures of the invention and commercial activity
If the invention has already been publicly disclosed or sold (or offered for sale), you’ll want to note when those events occurred, and to whom it was disclosed, sold, or offered. The same applies to any initial public disclosures or commercial activity you’ve planned for the future.
This documentation matters because your invention is eligible for U.S. patent protection only if its first public disclosure, sale, or offer for sale occurred less than one year before your application’s effective filing date. Anything after the one-year mark is ineligible.
However, if you’re seeking foreign patent protection, most countries are more strict and don’t offer this one-year grace period — so plan accordingly!
7. Funding sources
Did you use any externally-sourced funds to help develop the invention? You need to track these: Your funding sources could affect ownership of the invention.
You’re also required to disclose any U.S. government funding in your patent applications.
At least one witness should sign off on your IDR. The witness should be able to understand the technical contents of the IDR, but should not be directly affiliated with the invention disclosed in the IDR. As an example, they should not be an inventor or a principal researcher.
9. Signatures of all inventors
Finally, at least one of the inventors themselves should sign off on the IDR as well. And ideally, you would get all inventors to sign off as soon as is possible.
We’ve completed an IDR. What’s next?
Putting together a solid IDR can take a lot of work. But that work is worth it. Proper documentation is essential to securing adequate IP protections for your company’s work.
Don't want to write an IDR from scratch every time? With our FREE IDR template, you'll never miss an important detail when documenting your company's latest inventions. Download it now!