The non-disclosure agreement is something all innovators would be familiar with as a document exchanged between parties that may wish to share information on the understanding that both parties will keep the information in confidence.
However, there's one exception - when the information disclosed is already known to the other party or already in the public domain.
Further, I cannot recall a single event where the penalties for so-called disclosure have been enforced.
In most cases inventions, and in particular innovations, are the result of two elements of thinking: bringing together the independent parts of technology that will solve the problem.
The fact is that in almost all cases the separate bits of technology that go to make a solution are already well known and in the public domain, so what of the NDA?
Indeed the real confidential information that one wishes to protect is perhaps the problem that has been identified as well as a likely solution; with the further knowledge that there are often many ways of solving an identified problem.
An example in the technical sphere is that of dentistry and quartz crystals. Dentists know people cleaning their teeth usually wear a groove in the gum interface with molar teeth on their strong or dominate side. Any savvy inventor on learning of this may see it as an opportunity or a problem worth solving and thus seek a solution.
It is further well known to engineers that a quartz crystal, when distorted, generates an electrical current.
A possible innovation is to put a quartz crystal in the handle of a tooth brush and use the amplified electrical charge to raise an audible alarm when excessive pressure is applied.
This may be a valuable innovation, but how can an NDA be used to inspire collaboration - in this case since both sides of the equation, the grove in the teeth and ways of detecting excessive force are well known and in the public domain.
Indeed, it is the combination of this knowledge that is not well known and is the nub of the idea.
It seems that the real intellectual property here is the identification of the problem and the application of known technology to reach a marketable solution.
With this is mind, perhaps it's time we recast the NDA to protect the application of the known problem and market opportunity with the known technology, irrespective of the individual elements already in the public domain?
Above all else, it's not the technology that is important, it's the connection of the solution to a market that leads to profit and a sustainable business.