It is a natural thing to fear that your idea might be stolen, but you cannot turn your vision into reality without the help of others. Sooner or later, you are going to want to ask an industry expert to evaluate your product or service. You are going to need to collaborate with a manufacturer or distributor.
It is important for an entrepreneur to protect his/her business ideas from being stolen, maybe through a patent right; but patents cost a lot of money and take years to be issued. An entrepreneur may not be able to wait that long to start bringing products into the market.
Thankfully, there are creative ways to actively protect your idea without applying for a patent.
Here are some affordable strategies from entrepreneur.com that will protect your business idea from being stolen:
Do your research: Before you begin working with anyone new, be it an individual or organisation, do some research online. Do they have a good track record? Can you find any complaints about their business practices? Try to get a sense of what they are all about. If you find cause for concern, consider asking about it. As we all know, not everything you find online is true. But if their business practices seem sketchy before you have even begun to work with them, that is not a good sign.
Use three legal tools: With the help and oversight of an attorney, you can use the following legal tools to protect your business ideas:
- Non-disclosure agreement: Have anyone you work with sign a non-disclosure agreement that commits them to confidentiality. An NDA can be a mutual agreement between two parties not to share information with third parties, or it can go one-way (since you’re sharing information about your idea with them). If the agreement does not have an expiration date, that is powerful.
- Non-compete agreement: If you hire someone to help you, have him or her sign a non-compete agreement. A non-compete agreement prevents an individual or entity from starting a business that would compete or threaten yours within an established radius.
- Work-for-hire agreement: If you hire someone to help finetune your product, make sure to establish that you own any and all improvements made to the idea. Anything they come up with, you own. You will still need to list the person who came up with improvements as a co-inventor in your patent, but they will have no rights to your invention.
Turn to your country’s patent and trademark office for help Fortunately, patents are not the only tools available to protect our ideas. First, file a provisional patent application. You can do this yourself online or use a template such as Invent + Patent System or Patent Wizard to help you. Find out if your country’s patent office has call centres available with staff members on hand to answer questions and offer guidance.
Filing a PPA costs a lot, while patents can easily cost thousands of naira in legal fees, depending on the complexity of your idea. A provisional patent application protects your idea for up to one year and allows you to label your idea as “patent pending.” You can then use the year to gain valuable insight into your idea.
Also, consider applying for a trademark, which you can also easily do online. This costs a lot too, but it will help you establish ownership. Because names become synonymous with products, having a registered trademark cements the impression that the idea you are selling is closely associated with your product.
Build relationships with your competitors This may sound counter intuitive, but establishing mutually-beneficial relationships with your greatest competitors is one of the best ways to protect your idea. For example, launching a novelty guitar pick business, you can hire the largest producer in the industry to manufacture your picks. They will have little motivation to rip you off because they are already profiting from the success of your business. By giving them business, you would not be seen as a threat (even though, in reality, you share the same market space). You will respect one another.
These tips will make it harder for others to steal your idea. With any legal document, be sure to consult an attorney to guarantee accuracy and protection of your idea.
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