I have come up with an innovation to obtain linear motion without using any external source of energy. The idea arose from a paper I wrote on an alternative model of magnetism. I have built and tested the innovation and have written a paper describing it, which I wish to submit for publication.

My worry is that considering the novelty of the idea, it may get stolen or plagiarized. How do I prevent this from happening?

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    Don't worry about it, every physicist and engineer has already run into thousands of people exactly like you. You all have so many ways to get free energy that we couldn't keep up with stealing them if we wanted to. – knzhou Aug 10 at 9:39
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    Also see this question. – knzhou Aug 10 at 9:39
  • I never mentioned anything about free energy so I don't see how you have jumped to that conclusion. You also seem to assume for some reason that i am not a physicist or an engineer. Thanks for your advice about not worrying. – VH.Ryan Aug 10 at 9:57
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    @VH.Ryan if there is no external source of energy, in what sense is the energy not “free”? – Dan Romik Aug 10 at 13:55
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    @knzhou, Dan Romik - please don't... – henning Aug 10 at 17:06

If you have an invention, patent it. It's an expensive and long process though. But it may be dangerous to publish the paper first. Your patent could possibly be denied if the paper is deemed "prior art". This varies by jurisdiction, of course. Keep it as a trade secret until you file the patent.

You can't actually "prevent" plagiarism. You can only try to reveal it.

If you publish the paper without obtaining patent on the "invention", then people are free to use the idea. They just can't legally violate your copyright nor morally plagiarize the paper. But, ideas are free to use.

If the idea is valid and novel, you might be able to partner with some company to exploit it. Don't reveal it, however, without non-disclosure agreements in place first.

Much of this requires a lawyer, of course.

  • Inventions are only worth patenting if they have potential for significant commercial value. – user2768 Aug 10 at 10:44
  • You can apply for a patent after publishing at an academic conference in some countries. (So, it isn't generally true that "If you publish the paper without obtaining patent on the "invention", then people are free to use the idea.") That said, I'd strongly recommend filing a patent first. – user2768 Aug 10 at 10:46
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    @user2768. True enough in general. It is an expensive process. A partner can help and then the game changes a bit. Patents can be filed just to prevent competitors from following up on certain lines. A friend "has" a patent on a tiny-tiny idea that made for a strategic advantage for a large company. – Buffy Aug 10 at 10:48
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    But don’t publish the paper first. Your patent will then be denied. That’s not true - see here or google “patent grace period”. You really shouldn’t be offering legal advice about things that are not within your expertise. This may not matter in OP’s situation but other people may read what you wrote and be misled. – Dan Romik Aug 10 at 15:09
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    My complaint is that you were giving factually incorrect advice. How conservative it is, or whether there is some element of truth or wisdom in it, is irrelevant to that particular issue. – Dan Romik Aug 10 at 16:46

If you have a truly new idea, it's very unlikely anyone will want to steal it. You will have to sell it, first. Think of Steve Ballmer's reaction to the iPhone.

But to take your question a bit more seriously, you have basically four strategies for protecting your intellectual property:

  1. Trade secret. You license your IP to licensees who promise to keep it secret as well. Your protection is that your IP is so clever that you don't think it's likely anyone can independently recreate it without knowing how you did it. Works surprisingly well (think formula for Coca-Cola). But if your idea is recreated, there's nothing you can do about it, especially if they decide to patent before you do.
  2. Patent. This applies to inventions, like what you're describing. You publish your idea by submitting it to the patent authority in your country. If your patent is granted, you can prohibit others from using your idea without licensing it. But it's expensive, both to get the patent and to enforce it and whether you got the patent or not, everyone can read your idea.
  3. Copyright. This applies primarily to written, audio or video material and would include, e.g., any computer source code in your product. Copyrights exist from the moment of conception, though if you want to sue someone for copyright infringement you must first register your copyright (very cheap).
  4. You can give it away. You can publish it with, e.g., a GNU or similar open source license. This lets anyone use your IP but that also ensures you can always use it as well.
  • Or Woz and the idea of a desktop computer. But those ideas were so far outside the consciousness of the listener that they were dismissed as ridiculous. – Buffy Aug 10 at 17:56
  • In its present form the device has little commercial value, my concern is of someone claiming my work to be their own especially since it is "a truly new idea" as the OP in this question has experienced :academia.stackexchange.com/questions/100071/… – VH.Ryan Aug 10 at 17:57
  • @Buffy Yes, unlike a linear motion machine with no external power source, which no one has any problem with. – Nicole Hamilton Aug 10 at 18:05
  • I have no idea what his machine is. He speaks of magnetism, That could imply using the Earth's magnetic field as a "power source". I withheld judgement, not knowing more. – Buffy Aug 10 at 18:13
  • Perhaps one should ask: What's OP's priority? Business value? Or recognition? In the first case, options 1 and 2 (and to a lesser extent 3) apply. In the latter case, options 3 and 4 apply (or 5, a publication). – Captain Emacs Aug 11 at 7:12

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