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Should I ask a patent attorney to sign a confidentiality agreement before I tell them my idea?

A confidentiality agreement is not necessary for discussions about confidential matters with an attorney (including patent attorneys and trade mark attorneys) and lawyers (including solicitors and barristers). This is because attorneys and lawyers are automatically required by law not to disclose confidential information without the permission of their client. This law does not apply to other third parties.

Section 18 of the Code of Conduct for Trans-Tasman Patent and Trade Marks Attorneys 2018 states: “Unless permitted or required by law, a registered attorney must not use or disclose, or allow to be used or disclosed, confidential information obtained from or on behalf of a client, a former client or a prospective client without the informed consent of the client.”


Regulation 9 of the Legal Profession Uniform Law Australian Solicitors' Conduct Rules 2015 states that “a solicitor must not disclose any information which is confidential to a client and acquired by the solicitor during the client's engagement to any person who is not: a solicitor who is a partner, principal, director, or employee of the solicitor's law practice, or barrister or an employee of, or person otherwise engaged by, the solicitor's law practice or by an associated entity for the purposes of delivering or administering legal services in relation to the client.


Patent attorneys are in the business of protecting ideas, not stealing them. 


Patent attorneys are required to have a science or engineering degree.  Many of them have master’s degree or PhDs in science or engineering (which is the equivalent of one or two additional degrees).  Some patent attorneys are also practicing lawyers, which requires both a law degree and a diploma of legal practice.  In addition, all patent attorneys are required to have a Masters of Industrial Property degree.   Even with those qualifications, it can be difficult to get an actual job in the industry.  It is even more difficult to become a Principal or Director level attorney.  Patent attorneys have too much to lose to steal any single idea. 

These circumstances and laws do not apply to other third parties you may be required to tell an invention about. This includes manufacturers, graphic designers, industrial designers, website designers, advertising agents, potential business partners, potential investors, potential buyers of your patent or business, or even friends and family.

Standard confidentiality agreements just stop people from disclosing your idea before you do.  However, they cannot deal with the situation where a third party becomes “inspired” by an inventor to develop their own version of the invention.  This is the typical way in which a third party will try to “steal” your idea. We can provide confidentiality agreements which deal with this situation.

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