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Disclosure basics

What is an invention disclosure?

A disclosure is a record of your invention and its inventors, sponsorships and public disclosures.

You disclose to Northwestern University through the INVO office. Disclosure is also the first step in the patent application process. Learn more on our webpage, What is Invention Disclosure?

When should I disclose my invention?

Plan to submit your disclosure 3-4 weeks prior to a public disclosure of your invention so that INVO can protect it accordingly.  Otherwise, you may be limited in the type of patent protection that may be acquired.

A public disclosure can include a description in a printed publication (including email correspondence, grant proposals, posters, abstracts and oral disclosures) as well as the sale, use or availability of the invention to the public. See a full overview of public disclosures. 

How do I disclose my invention?

To disclose an invention to INVO, please complete the Invention Disclosure Form. 

There is also a Copyright Disclosure Form for use with literary and artistic works and a Software Disclosure Form that includes, but is not limited to source code.

For details on the steps involved after you submit your disclosure, see the Disclosure Process webpage.

Who is my invention manager?

INVO has invention managers who specialize in commercialization, life science, engineering and physical science. All INVO invention managers are listed on the Our Team webpage

If you are new to INVO and do not yet have an invention manager, please contact us at or (847) 467-2097.

What can I expect after disclosing?

Once INVO receives an invention disclosure, it is sent to the correct invention manager.  Within 2-3 days of your disclosure, you will receive an email with an assigned NU reference number.  Use this number when communicating with INVO about your invention. If additional information is required, you will hear from INVO staff within two to three weeks.  Based on its due diligence, INVO will decide whether to file a provisional patent application within 60 days. INVO may also identify additional data in order to increase the chance of issuance. See details on the entire disclosure process.

Public Disclosure

Can I discuss my invention with others before filing a patent application?

Yes, inventions can be discussed under a confidentiality agreement. Confidentiality Disclosure Agreement (CDA) forms are available online. Please contact INVO for more information and guidance. 

Do I have to file in all the countries before I disclose the invention publicly?

No, you can preserve patent rights in all countries by filing one application in a country and then appropriately claiming priority to that application.


What if someone was inadvertently added to or left off the list of inventors?

It is possible to correct inventorship with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. INVO and outside patent counsel will work with you to help determine if a correction is needed to either add or remove inventors in accordance with U.S. patent law. For example, during prosecution of a patent application, the claims filed in the original patent application may change or some claims may be removed and/or new claims may be added. Therefore, an assessment of inventorship with regard to claims ultimately granted by the patent office is also important. 

If I am the author on a manuscript, am I then an inventor on a patent application that is based on that manuscript?

Inventorship should not be confused with authorship on a scientific publication. Almost anyone involved with a project could be identified as an author; however, not everyone involved in a project can or should be named as an inventor. Inventorship is determined by law, whereas authorship for a manuscript may vary, for example, based on academic discipline, lab group, or even institution.

What if faculty and students work together on a project? Who are the inventors?

As in all cases, the legal definition of inventorship applies, and the answer to this question depends on the facts related to the project.  An invention may be co-invented by one or more faculty members and students if they collaborate and “conceive of an invention” together, or a faculty member alone or a student alone may be deemed a sole inventor.

For example, if a faculty member has conceived of general concepts related to an invention before a student becomes involved in working on a project, and that student does not contribute directly to the invention as it is being claimed in a patent application, then the faculty may be a sole inventor. On the other hand, if a student takes a general idea and conceives of the essential elements necessary to make the invention work beyond the general idea of the invention, the student might be considered an inventor.

If I work on an invention project in class, am I an inventor?

Not necessarily.  If an invention had already been conceived of by a faculty or staff member and that invention is used by the class, inventorship depends on what each individual has contributed to the conception of that invention. 

If I am named on a patent application, does that mean I am an owner of the patent?

No. Inventors are not necessarily owners of a patent.  Ownership is determined by what rights others may have to the invention. At Northwestern, ownership of inventions and discoveries is determined by the University’s Patent and Invention Policy.  For more information, please see the Northwestern University Patent and Invention Policy.