Start-ups are known for their innovation, creativity and the relentless energy to do something that was never done before. When you think of an idea and feel that it has the potential to become a good business, you are natural to feel enthusiastic about it and discuss it with every person you meet. However, beware, you must pick and choose the people whom you discuss it with since there is a potential of your idea getting stolen by somebody for their profit. This somebody can be anybody from your best friends to somebody totally unrelated to you who has just heard the idea as he or she was passing by your side. What do you do to avoid this? Of course, protect it. Easier said than done; how do you protect it? The most common answer to this question would be patenting.
When you think of a ‘crazy’ idea, you would want to take it ahead since you believe that there is potential in it to become a great, successful business. I call it crazy because businesses when conceived seem ‘crazy’ and impossible to the world. It is the creator alone who believes in it and takes it ahead.
The idea cannot turn into reality unless there is help from others. The people involved in various stages are:
Stage #1- Concept Discussion
You think of a concept, discuss it with others, seek their opinion and involve them in the project.
Stage #2- Evaluation
Once the idea materializes you ask an industry expert to evaluate the service or product for its potential.
Stage #3- Manufacture and Distribution
You collaborate with a manufacturer for manufacturing the product and a distributor for distributing it.
At each of these stages, there is a risk of your idea being stolen, improvised upon and made into a business by the individuals involved. This is where patenting and protection steps in. However, a patent costs at least a few thousand dollars and it takes years to get one issued. In this world of competition, waiting for that long to bring your product into the market is not feasible. What do you do in such cases? Go for alternatives.
Apart from patenting, there are other ways of protecting your idea. These are more creative and quicker ways of idea protection.
Making a Legal Agreement
A legal agreement is a very useful legal tool that helps in protecting your business idea from being stolen. You can take the help of a lawyer or an attorney while preparing one. There are basically three types of agreements:
Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA):
An NDA is a mutual agreement between the two parties (the company and the individual or group of individuals with whom the company is sharing the idea) stating that information from the discussion would not be shared with any third person. It would be a powerful agreement if it does not have any expiry date set on it.
Often, people are hired in various stages of product development to help fine tune the product. In that case, it must be made very clear that all the modifications made to the product would be owned by the company alone and that the individual hired has no right over it once the work done. However, the company must mention the name of the person who brought about the changes as a co-inventor when they apply for a patent. However, these individuals would have no right to the invention.
Often, if you are running a startup you may hire a company or an individual for various related work. In that case, get them sign a non-compete agreement. By signing this, the individual would not be allowed to start a business similar to yours and compete with yours within the mentioned radius.
File a Provisional Patent Application
A provisional patent application (PPA) protects the idea for a year. With this, your idea is labelled as ‘patent pending’. One year is enough time to get valuable insight and work on the idea. Moreover, a PPA costs only $100, unlike patents which cost at least a few thousand dollars excluding the legal fees.
Applying for Trademark
A trademark is one of the first features that consumers notice when they put their hands on a product. It gives your product an identity and also helps you establish your ownership. It is very easy to apply for a trademark online although it costs a few hundred dollars.
Building Relation with Competitors
This is one of the best ways to protecting your idea. You establish a mutually beneficial relation with your greatest competitors and they would help you in the business rather than interfere with it. You both start respecting each other’s spaces and actually consciously avoid harming the other’s business.
Although the above ways are easy and practical, the best way to protect your idea would be to let it remain a secret. You must avoid talking about it in public.
Let me narrate an incident at this point. A friend of mine came up with a brilliant idea for a business he thought had great potential. So he gathered a group of his friends (myself included) and shared this idea with us. Now, this meeting was done in one of our favourite restaurants. We agreed on the potential and decided to take it ahead. However, a month later, I was shocked to see the newspaper. One of our friends who was with us in the group at the time of discussion had actually improvised upon it and was ready to launch the product! The worst part was we could do nothing about it- there was no proof of discussion.