SBIR CONSULTANT BULLETIN – Protecting Proprietary Information
I recently conducted a webinar on SBIR proposal writing for the Association of Clean Tech Incubators of New England (ACTION). An attendee posed the following question on Government treatment of proprietary information. Here is the question and my answer:
Question: “I have never been 100% clear on what, if all, of proprietary info is protected and not be disclosed to 3rd parties (potentially competitors). I understand that the gov’t agency has provisions for the proposer to identify what is proprietary info and the agency puts forth a _limited_ effort to protect that information. However, I believe that if a 3rd party (i.e. competitor) really wants info in the proposal or subsequent project reports, etc — the 3rd party can eventually get the info from the agency if they push hard for it. I believe they can do this under freedom of info act. I do not know this for certain, however. Under such a scenario, therefore, it is important to have a provisional patent on any key info that is disclosed in docs sent to gov’t. Is this definitely the case?”
Answer: Although Government agency violation of SBIR data rights is illegal, it may happen. I do not know of any specific cases, however. Having a patent before writing a SBIR proposal may provide protection. On the other hand, such a patent could reveal your “secret sauce.” You may proceed with a patent application during a Phase I or II program. While working at my previous company, the contracts folks asked about any possible patent disclosures related to my SBIR programs.
Having “been around the block” a few times, it strikes me that if you have a desirable innovation worth millions, do expect to have your patent violated. From a small company perspective, it would be extremely costly to defend your position against a large corporation with “deep pockets.” In essence, these are the risks one assumes in the innovation space. Here is a link to the SBIR rules on data rights.Tags: ACTION, Association Clean Tech Incubators of New England, Freedom of Information Act, Proprietary Information, SBIR Data Rights