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Watch Your Mouth!

If you don't want to lose the rights to your idea, don't talk about it--without a nondisclosure agreement, that is.

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This story appears in the August 1999 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

With whom have you shared your great idea? Your best friend? Your spouse? A consultant or manufacturer? If you've told any of these people, watch out! If they didn't sign , your loose lips may have sunk your ship to future fortune.

The laws regarding idea disclosure have become more defined over the years. Today, showing or telling someone your idea without proof that it was shared in confidence can be very risky. Lacking evidence to the contrary, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will consider that revelation a public disclosure and the start of your idea's one-year countdown: From the time you share your idea, you have one year to file a patent application (regular or provisional). If you don't, your idea will no longer be protected and you'll lose your rights to it. And if you had hopes of protecting your idea worldwide, forget it. Many (such as ) require that your patent application be on file before any public disclosure is made.

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