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It is pretty rare for a large company with their team of patent attorneys to not legally "steal" your patented idea, if they want.

Actually, it's exactly what I did. I didn't even need the attorneys. I was a process engineer. I was working on ways of reducing the costs on a very long and complicated process scheme with several steps involved. One of my sources for ideas is process patents, especially from the competitors.

In process patents, you essentially have to spell out the exact method used to produce something and the ingredients. All I have to do is to switch ingredients or change one step...and your patent is shot out the window. I did it multiple times.

For instance, Cytec has patented both the low cost process for producing and often the process for producing products with Nakaraj's flotation reagent, hydroxamates. The stuff works extremely well over the competition (fatty acids which are not nearly as selective) but it is also priced accordingly. After a lot of research and a few experiments, I found another family of compounds called sarcosines. They actually work slightly better than hydroxamates, but they are priced only slightly above the price for fatty acids. AND, they are the base surfactant in a lot of shaving creams, so they were in abundant supply.

The competition was eating up the market with hydroxamates. Then the sarcosine-based stuff hit the market and we could compete toe-to-toe. We didn't even patent the sarcosines. We had the packaging custom labelled to hide the identify from hourly guys. And as far as I know, years later, nobody has figured out how to copy the non-patented idea yet.
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