Theft. It’s every company’s biggest fear. Not binder clips or ballpoint pens, but intellectual property. A company’s competitive advantage is built around their ideas, and if a competitor got their hands on them, they could quickly leave a business with nothing.
While this nightmare scenario is terrifying, the truth is that very few people want to steal your ideas. If someone wants to start a business, it’s probably because they already have a concept they want to make a reality, and they’re not about to ruin their reputation by using yours.
That doesn’t mean intellectual property risk doesn’t exist. As a business grows, it becomes necessary to share ideas with others, be they investors, subcontractors, teaming partners, or business associates. This kind of collaboration can leave a company exposed. Investors need to know where their money is going, clients want to know what they’ll receive, and employees require some knowledge to do their job. Here are 7 ways to reduce your intellectual property risk:
1. Share What’s Needed
A pitch doesn’t need to contain all of the details. When constructing pitches, only provide the salient details. Investors and lenders may require more information so they can better assess risk, but most others don’t. A potential client cares less about the process, and more about what they’ll receive. New employees only require enough information to complete their job. Embrace “Need to Know,” and you’ll greatly reduce intellectual property risk.
2. Use NDAs
Before revealing your secrets to any associates or employees, ask them to sign a non-disclosure agreement. While this is a great way to protect yourself, many investors and potential clients are loathe to sign an NDA before any discussions. By adding a confidentiality statement to your business plan, you can reduce risk without requiring a signature.
3. Get a Provisional Patent
While you may not be able to afford a full patent, a provisional patent can give you the security you need to start shopping around. Keep in mind that it expires after a year, and you cannot extend, so once you receive it the clock will be ticking.
4. Trademark Your Name
When your company’s idea is strongly tied to its name, trademarking the name can provide some protection. The legal documents establish a timeline that shows when you were developing the idea, providing indisputable evidence in court.
5. Do a Rep Check
Before revealing your ideas to anyone, make sure that they haven’t been involved in any disputes in the past. A quick internet search should show if the person in question has a good reputation or if they have an iffy history.
6. Listen to Your Gut
If your instincts are telling you something’s wrong, listen. Someone who seems overly interested in the details may want to invest or they may want to grab your idea and run. The more experience you have, the easier it becomes to determine someone’s motive, but don’t discount warning bells just because you’re a novice.
7. Create a Paper Trail
If you do end up going to court, you need to be able to furnish evidence. By putting as much as you can into writing, you’ll have the proof you need. Create a log that keeps track of every discussion where your intellectual property was revealed. This will not only help you in court– it might help if one of those conversations end up going somewhere.
Don’t let yourself be consumed by the fear of idea theft. Being too secretive can keep you from securing investors, making connections, and getting constructive feedback. With so many ideas out there, almost no one is interested in stealing someone else’s. Do what you can to reduce intellectual property risk, but don’t let it rule you.
Image credit: marigranula / 123RF Stock Photo
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