A new year always brings opportunities for new implementations and growth in business. As a startup entrepreneur, it is not uncommon to see ideas “stolen” by established companies with bigger finances and more resources. This usually occurs during an investment pitch.
If you have fallen victim to idea theft, avoid repeat mistakes. Once bitten twice shy. As you chart a new plan for your small business, guard your ideas closely.
Besides insuring the business against liability, you’ll need to keep your plans safe. The following tips will help you protect and maximise your valuable ideas.
- Avoid revealing too much
It is easy to get too excited during a business pitch or client presentation and reveal the bulk of your business idea. Unfortunately, clients have been known to refuse an offer, only to take the pitcher’s idea and develop it in-house.
Learn to keep the details of your plan a secret. If possible, restrict presentations to rough sketches. During the development of the iPhone, Steve Jobs was so secretive that the engineers involved in the project were not privy to what the next person was working on. Borrow a page from Steve Job’s book.
- Use non-disclosure agreements
An NDA is effective in keeping your employees in check in case one of them decides to share your ideas with a third-party. Have an experienced lawyer draw up an agreement for each team member to sign.
However, if you are pitching an idea, it will be difficult to get potential investors to sign an NDA. After all, they are in a vantage position. Nonetheless, instead of requesting a signature, you can print and attach a confidentiality clause on your business plan.
- Apply for a provisional patent
A provisional patent is effective, but the downside is the cost. It is usually more expensive for startups, particularly if you are still sourcing funds. You could register the patent for just 12 months without a roll over option. Hopefully, your business idea will have kicked off in full force by the expiry period.
- Trademark your business name
Trademarking your business product provides an extra level of protection against corporate spies. This is particularly helpful in case a legal conflict arises. The documentation you sign for the trademark will serve as proof that your plan was in the works during the given period.
- Research the recipients
One way to stay safe is to deal with trustworthy people. If an investor or client plans to steal your idea, chances are they have a history of such behaviour. Spend some time to research their business background. Are there cases of intellectual property conflict? Are they currently in court for something similar. Being informed will help you make proper decisions to guard your ideas.
Once you receive sufficient funds to scale your startup, don’t delay. The faster you progress with your idea, the lower the chances of anybody copying it. When you develop a minimum viable product, publicize it. Ensure that people associate the product or service with your company.
It’s a new year; your business approach should be quick and strategic.