Owning a business comes with many benefits, as well as risks. While losing profit may seem like the worst that can happen, having your idea stolen can be even worse. After all, all the projects start with an idea, and many include intellectual properties that can be lucrative for your competitors if you don’t take the necessary precautions. However, being paranoid and not trusting anyone is not good for the company either, so here are ways to protect your business idea without going into full stealth mode.
1. Use secure connections
To ensure your business idea doesn’t fall into unwanted hands, start by using secure connections. Cyber-crimes are on the rise, and hackers are always there, trying to steal your data and do a lot of harm to your company. Consult with an IT expert specializing in cyber-security, what you can do and how to protect your online data.
Use secure applications for communication, storage, and exchange of files, but also make sure that your servers and computers are behind a strong firewall. Of course, a skillful hacker may still be able to bypass your protection, but this gives you more chances to notice the intrusion before they do any damage.
2. Research registration categories
It matters what you want to register since the process recognizes three categories:
- Copyrights — as an idea creator, you have certain rights, like to reproduce your work, distribute its copies, publicly present it and perform it, and create derivative works. That said, you own the copyright to your business idea, so you can decide to transfer all or certain rights to other parties.
- Patents — by patenting your business idea at the appropriate body, you have the right to be the sole manufacturer, seller, or user of that business idea. You can choose one of the three types of patents: utility, plant, and design.
- Trademarks — a word, phrase, symbol, and design that identify your business idea fall under trademarks. They make your business recognizable for the consumers and more unique among the competition.
3. Apply for a provisional patent
Applying for provisional patent grants you a timeframe of up to a year to work on your business idea and submit a formal application. This means that you have 12 months to test and adjust your business idea before releasing it to the public.
Moreover, this allows you to pitch the idea to investors and find other resources to develop it. During this period, your business idea will be labeled “patent pending” and protected from anyone else trying to register the same invention.
4. Talk about the business idea after its registration
Keeping your business idea on a need-to-know basis before registration is one of the ways to protect it. The moment you start your marketing campaign, you put your business idea out in the open, and anyone can steal it. This way, you keep everything under wraps until the registration is finalized, although you can work on the marketing campaign also in secret.
5. Keep records of everything
Working on a business idea may require planning, drafting, drawing, and writing. The best option you have is to keep them all and keep personal records of the developing process. This will give you proof of concept if anyone tries to claim that they didn’t steal your idea, but it was theirs originally. If you have to appear before the court and defend your rights, having a paper trail will work in your favor.
6. Timestamp all your ideas
Besides documenting everything, you should also timestamp your business ideas. For example, write an email, text, or an online document for yourself where you will describe the idea. That way, you will have an electronic date and time of the moment you created your idea. Timestamping may serve as proof of concept, just like keeping records if you have to defend your intellectual property legally or otherwise.
7. Consult with legal experts
The best approach to protect your business idea is to hire legal experts and let them take care of the process for you. For example, if you want to register a patent, you need to ensure that it’s unique by checking its novelty status. This is where hiring a patent lawyer comes in handy since they are proficient in performing the preliminary novelty search and filing a patent application.
Keep in mind that protecting your business idea is not as easy as it may seem. There are various categories to consider, extensive checks to perform, and respect regulations that sometimes may be confusing. To avoid trouble, hire legal experts before you disclose the idea to anybody to make sure you and your business are protected from start to finish.
8. Sign NDAs
A non-disclosure agreement or NDA is a common practice when you want to prevent someone from talking about something. If you will include other parties, it’s best to ask them to sign an NDA before you tell them anything about your business idea.
This includes people who work on the idea with you and employees and contractors. The agreement prevents them from disclosing any information about your business idea, or they will be penalized.
9. Prepare non-solicitation and non-compete agreements
Another set of contracts is non-solicitation and non-compete agreements. The latter is intended to stop others from starting a similar business as yours. If you add a non-solicitation agreement, then you can prevent them from taking your employees and clients as well. It’s recommended that all your employees sign at least a non-compete agreement so they can’t build their own business on your ideas.
10. Hire people through work-for-hire agreements
If you need additional help on your business idea, you can sign a work-for-hire agreement with people who will assist you. This person can perfect your idea, finalize it, or give adjustments you don’t know how to make. They will be considered co-inventors, but you will be a holder of all rights regarding the registered business idea.
The bottom line
As someone with ideas, you know how precious and life-changing they can be. The same applies to business ideas, so you need to keep them safe from people who want to steal them from you. Knowing what kind of agreements to sign, how to register IP, and hiring legal experts to establish your rights can protect your business idea from potential thieves.
Mike is an Australian business consulting specialist. He’s working with companies that outsource their IT maintenance. He often writes about technology, business, and marketing and regularly contributes to several websites.