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It's not a question of who to approach, but how to approach them. Go talk to a lawyer. Any business or IP lawyer can advise you on how to approach potential partners and they can draft an agreement you can present to potential partners that will protect your idea.

For better or worse, it's easier to create an agreement to protect your idea than it is to figure out what company you can trust.
 

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It may help to have a prototype as well. An idea on paper is great but something tangable is even better.
 

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Also, as far as companies go, I know that Murky Water Kayaks is the company that builds the carbon rock star. If it's more of a generic solution, you may consider licensing a patent to any given company. Another company I know of and that is easy to approach is Wenonah Canoe. They make carbon race canoes and high end kevlar canoes and also sea kayaks (though, current designs I think only uses plastic).
 

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Based on my very outsider perspective on the industry...

If it is a shape you will probably have to make it happen on your own dime and hope it sells (it probably won't). If it is a new manufacturing technique I would try to get it patented.
 

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As a former Patent Attorney and current tech business owner, a few observations:

You probably won't be the first person to approach them with a "revolutionary idea" but want them to sign a paper first before you tell them about it. And most business owners will just ignore you or decline your offer unless you really give them something up front to demonstrate that you're legitimately worth paying attention to. From the business owner's perspective this is for two reasons: a)Most so-called "revolutionary ideas" or improvements coming from industry outsiders are missing something critical or would have already been developed by people who work in the field. And no offense, but a lot of outsider inventors with "revolutionary ideas" are duds and they've probably experienced a few of those meetings ("My friends uncle has a great idea for a new social network you could build!!!"). b) Signing anything carries legal risk. They're basically agreeing not to build something (or at least giving you a case to sue them if they do), even if its already in the works or not protected by a patent.

So, as a business owner, I hate NDA's and need something really enticing before I will touch one. We almost always tell people that we'd rather have a few meetings without revealing our secrets to see if there's something even worthwhile. In light of this, assuming you really have something awesome on your hands, your best bet for getting your foot in the door and on your way into a "licensing" situation (i.e. they pay you for your invention, either royalties or up front) is to do something to convince them that they need to be talking to you and that its worth their time and exposure to sign a paper. So, if you can build a prototype without giving away your secret, or make a video, or powerpoint or whatever it is, which demonstrates how awesome your invention is BEFORE they sign an NDA, without giving away the details or the trade secrets, then you're more likely to get a meeting and a signed paper if you're legit. And networking into the right people also makes a huge huge difference to at least getting heard.

As far as patents go, please don't use any "online patent help service" or similar thing. Some of those are complete scams, and even those that are arguably not scams, you end up with a worthless self-drafted patent application 99% of the time and a worthless self-drafted patent the other 1% if the application somehow gets issued. If you can't afford the $5000+ to have a legitimate patent attorney or patent agent who's experienced with carbon fiber to file a provisional patent application for you (and thats just the first phase), then don't bother spending the $500-$1000 for one of the shams. If that's your situation, just work on getting a good NDA and keep it a secret and see if you can talk to someone under NDA who might be willing to finance a patent if they like the idea. Of course, licensing an issued patent is much more viable and profitable than licensing a patent application which is more viable than licensing an unprotected secret idea or having your licensee finance the patent work...

.....But patents take 3-5 years and the whole system is fairly ridiculous, expensive, and broken IMO so have fun. :)
 

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.....But patents take 3-5 years and the whole system is fairly ridiculous, expensive, and broken IMO so have fun. :)
Ben, that was an awesome overview. That makes me think of this question. How likely is an idea to get "borrowed?" I know it's an incredibly vague question, though, since kayaking is a small community, can really good ideas (Lets presume that wabisabimike has an awesome idea) get pitched w/o an NDA? Or is that just asking for trouble? Is there any sort of poor man's copyright equivalent for "first to invent" that an inventor can leverage outside of patents or even NDAs? And do I have to pay you for answering this question? I mean, we're all dirt bag kayakers and the best you can hope for is warm PBR.
 

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As far as patents go, please don't use any "online patent help service" or similar thing. Some of those are complete scams, and even those that are arguably not scams, you end up with a worthless self-drafted patent application 99% of the time and a worthless self-drafted patent the other 1% if the application somehow gets issued. If you can't afford the $5000+ to have a legitimate patent attorney or patent agent who's experienced with carbon fiber to file a provisional patent application for you (and thats just the first phase), then don't bother spending the $500-$1000 for one of the shams. If that's your situation, just work on getting a good NDA and keep it a secret and see if you can talk to someone under NDA who might be willing to finance a patent if they like the idea. Of course, licensing an issued patent is much more viable and profitable than licensing a patent application which is more viable than licensing an unprotected secret idea or having your licensee finance the patent work...

.....But patents take 3-5 years and the whole system is fairly ridiculous, expensive, and broken IMO so have fun. :)
Keep detailed dated notes throughout the development process.
 

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Ben, that was an awesome overview. That makes me think of this question. How likely is an idea to get "borrowed?" I know it's an incredibly vague question, though, since kayaking is a small community, can really good ideas (Lets presume that wabisabimike has an awesome idea) get pitched w/o an NDA? Or is that just asking for trouble? Is there any sort of poor man's copyright equivalent for "first to invent" that an inventor can leverage outside of patents or even NDAs?
I will say my experience was primarily with computer software--where the system is ridiculously broken and messed up IMO. My impression is that the system isn't as broken when it comes to materials and mechanical inventions (although its still very expensive) ... It's "government by the patent lawyers, of the patent lawyers, for the patent lawyers."

Your options are basically to keep it a secret a la Coke, Dr. Pepper, Colonel Sanders, (and either develop it yourself, and/or protect your secret with NDA's), pursue a patent application, or just trust people to be nice (good luck :) ). Beyond those things, people are free to "borrow" ideas without legal recourse, which IMO actually promotes innovation by limiting the number of monopolies to those for things that are worth protecting.

When you do start the patenting process you will have back-dated protection once you do end up getting the patent issued, even if that doesn't happen for several years.

So the poor man's best option is probably either trade secret + NDA, or a provisional patent application, which gets you a filing date and buys you a year without having to convert it to a non-provisional patent application which then gets put in line for review by the patent office. In my business (software), we don't bother with patents; I expect people to copy, and our protection is just in the fact that we can do it better, provide better service, and be 2 steps ahead of the copy cats.

Keep detailed dated notes throughout the development process.
Great advise. Keeping detailed notes ("lab notebook") is important in some scenarios but it doesn't provide protection in and of itself. Its useful if you do end up getting a patent that you plan on enforcing, or if someone outright breaks into your lab and steals your secret (vs just copying it based on something you showed them or put out in public, which is probably legit without a patent, no matter how unfair that seems or how well you can prove you invented it).

And do I have to pay you for answering this question? I mean, we're all dirt bag kayakers and the best you can hope for is warm PBR.
I would take internet ramblings from an inactive lawyer who's been out of the patent system for years to be about as valuable as any "legal advise" you read on an internet forum. A can of PBR would be pushing it... show me down a new run sometime and I'll be more than compensated!
 
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