I recently contacted a large manufacturer/online retailer about a product that I wanted to wholesale to them so they can sell on their website (I've kept the email responses from them). After revealing my products to them, they responded back through an email, telling me that they "have actually been developing our own version" of the product I sent to them. My product is a wood locker organizer--their version will be made out of thin metal. They did not have locker organizers on their website before my initial contact with them. But now conveniently, after my email, it seems they are taking my product which is made of wood and making a metal version of it, and will now offer locker organizers in the future. Can they take my product design. make it out of metal and call it their own?
If they stole your ideas, you have potential claims against them. Possibly misappropriation of trade secrets, possibly unfair competition, possibly breach of contract or fraud depending on the terms under which you disclosed your idea to them, and who said what. But it might be hard to prove that they did not start working on this idea until they saw your product. Also you might have to show that they could not have discovered this idea from somewhere else.
These are complicated and expensive cases to prove, however, and whether it is worth doing might depend on how much they can make by selling this product. For now you might just want to put them on notice of your claims, demand that they stop, and keep an eye on them. It might also be interesting to ask that they show you their drawings or whatever other proof they might have that they started working on this idea before they saw your product. Do it in writing.
You don't have a copyright because the organizer is not a work of authorship. You don't have a trademark because the organizer is not used to mark goods in trade (it is the good). You don't have a patent unless you've gone through the process of getting one. You probably don't have a trade secret unless there is something about your organizer that is a secret.
You don't seem to have any intellectual property claims but that does not mean you have no claims. As the other attorney stated, you may have a cause of action for unfair competition. You should speak to a business attorney to evaluate your negotiations with this business to help you evaluate your options.
As the other attorneys have said, you may have a cause of action for unfair competition.
Unfortunately it sounds like you may not have approached them with a Nondisclosure Agreement- which many will refuse to sign, or started by speaking with a patent attorney to see if your item may be protectable.
You could still do so, though you'd now be in a race to file against that company. Speak asap with a patent attorney for more information on what you'd have to do.
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I think my colleagues miss the mark.
You submitted an unsolicited product idea to a manufacturer. The manufacturer replied that it was not interested because it was already working on creating a similar product. That's the end of the matter.
As my colleague's rightly note, you have no copyright, trademark or patent claim. And there is nothing UNFAIR about the manufacturer rejecting your unsolicited product idea. Even if we assume your idea provided that company with the impetus to create its own similar product your submission was [very likely] NOT made with a bilateral understanding between you and the company that that company would not use your idea without compensating you.
The relevant California law is "idea submission law" -- that is, implied contract law. The rule is that IF an idea is pitched to someone under circumstances where BOTH the idea-giver and idea-recipient understand that the disclosure of the idea is conditioned upon the idea-giver being compensated if the idea is used, then those parties have created an implied-in-fact contract. Under those circumstances, the idea-recipient cannot use the idea without compensating the idea-giver.
As I understand your question, you did not receive from the company its promise NOT to use your product idea before you disclosed it. So no implied-in-fact contract. You simply gave the company a gift. Exploiting that gift is FAIR competition [even assuming the company was not already working on its own similar product].
Speak with your own California-licensed intellectual property attorney, of course, because there are always more facts in play that can only be disclosed and discussed in private. Good luck.
The above response is general information ONLY and is not legal advice, does not form an attorney-client relationship, and should NOT be relied upon to take or refrain from taking any action. I am not your attorney. You should seek the advice of competent counsel before taking any action related to your inquiry.
While I can't comment on your specific situation, I represented a content producer for many years, and I am here to tell you that what we call "parallel development" happens ALL THE TIME. They may not have had it on their website or whatever, but it's entirely plausible that they were in fact developing something similar before you came along.
Have an attorney review the correspondence file if you think that there may be an actual contractual agreement that they wouldn't do this somewhere, but otherwise, you're probably out of luck.
Marc Whipple is an attorney, but may or may not be licensed in any particular jurisdiction and may or may not be familiar with any particular law or regulation relevant to the subject matter or related issues. Nothing in this message is meant to constitute professional legal advice or to establish an attorney/client relationship and its content should not be relied upon by third parties. Consult an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction and familiar with the relevant law before making legal decisions.
Our intellectual property laws do not protect mere ideas. Further, unless you filed for and obtained a patent covering your wood-locker organizer, anyone can make a copy of your product. Unless you have a patent broad enough to cover any locker organizer, you have no right to prevent someone from making a metal version (or wood version) of your product. In short, this company has done nothing wrong. It had no obligation to compensate you for use of your idea.
The only way to protect yourself in a situation like this is to (a) require companies like this to enter into a non-disclosure agreement that prohibits them from using your idea without compensating you , and (b) obtaining a patent that protects your invention (if this product is patentable---which I doubt). You have to work hard to create and own IP rights---they do not come merely from having an idea or making a product---you have no IP rights in this situation---although you might have had some IP rights if you had consulted with legal counsel. Had you consulted with counsel, you might have been able to apply for a utility or design patent for your wood locker organizer. Or you might have been able to use trademark law to "brand" your product to avoid competition from inauthentic versions. Or your lawyer might have drafted a non-disclosure agreement that would protect you in a situation like this. But without using a lawyer to take concrete steps to protect your IP rights, you are left with nothing.
I am not your lawyer and this is not intended to be legal advice on which you rely. My answer is merely intended to assist you in understanding some of the issues that you face so that you can make an intelligent choice when you hire legal counsel.
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