by Lewis Robinson
It’s finally happened. After years of brainstorming, of tossing out bad ideas, of beating your head against the wall in frustration, you’ve finally done it. You’ve come up with your Big Idea. It’s going to revolutionize the world, and the idea is 100 percent your own. This is what you’ve been working for your entire life.
… So now what?
If your idea is truly groundbreaking, then it’s likely that there are others who would be interested in capitalizing upon it themselves. That’s why one of the most important early steps of any startup venture is securing the idea to prevent it from being stolen by competitors — particularly those who might have the resources and drive to try to beat you to the punch. What follows are just a few tips on how to keep your ideas secure.
Get a provisional patent.
One of the most effective ways to protect your intellectual property is to patent it. Unfortunately, a patent can also be very expensive, and when you’re just starting out, the amount can be crippling. Fortunately, a provisional patent costs much less and can be put into place quickly to keep your idea secure. Remember, though, it is only good for a year, after which you will need to convert it into a non-provisional application.
When you file a provisional patent, make sure to anticipate any potential changes or design alterations and include all possible iterations in the provisional patent application. While a provisional patent will essentially hold a place for your full patent when you file for it, adding anything to the patent will send it to the back of the line.
Establish a trademark.
If you trademark your company’s name, you can establish additional protection in the case of a legal dispute. Should someone claim to have been working on a similar idea to yours, you can use the paperwork connected to the trademark process as documentation of when you began working on your idea. It can help you to prove that you had the idea first.
Keep thorough records.
Document everything. Leave a paper trail so that, if you are forced to go to court, you will have proof of your entire process. Any time you discuss the details of your new business or product with someone, mark it in a log. Keep all of these records in a safe place where you can easily retrieve them should you need quick access.
Hire experienced legal counsel.
Contact an experienced legal representative to advise you about how to proceed and keep your intellectual property secure. Make sure you contact someone experienced commercial litigation in your area. While divorce lawyers are helpful in a custody battle, a court case about patent infringement is a completely different ballgame.
Be careful about who you share information with.
Before you discuss your idea with someone, whether they are a manufacturer, a supplier, or a potential business partner, make sure you know who you’re dealing with. Research their previous business dealings and determine their track record. If they have a history of complaints against their business practices, you might want to reconsider doing business with them.
In addition to doing your research ahead of time, trust your instincts. If you get a bad feeling about someone, you’re under no obligation to do business with them until you’ve signed a contract. Try to get a clear idea of exactly with whom you are doing business.
If possible, consider using a non-disclosure agreement. It can serve as an extra layer of protection in preventing others from stealing your idea. That said, you should recognize that many investors and potential clients will hesitate if you ask them to sign an NDA. It’s up to you to weigh the risks versus the potential rewards of having investors and early clients.
When all is said and done, don’t let fear of having your idea stolen become a roadblock. For your business to succeed, you will have to be willing to take a few risks. You will need to share your idea with many different people, from suppliers to manufacturers to employees to investors. If you hold tight to your idea and never let anyone see it, then you won’t be able to get anything done with it, and it will be wasted. Chances are low that you will actually have your idea stolen, so just have a plan in place and be careful. Who knows? Maybe your big idea will be the next big thing!
Lewis Robinson is a business consultant specializing in social media marketing, CRM, and sales. He’s begun multiple corporations and currently freelances as a writer and business consultant.