So you’ve got a great, innovative idea and you just know this could be the one to catapult your brilliance into a successful business venture. But before you go enthusiastically announcing your inspiration to friends and family or spilling your trade secrets at the local coffee shop, you may want to first consider legally protecting your intellectual property.
Discovering a new business idea is exhilarating. But great ideas are only of value to you if you’ve got a fighting chance at protecting them as your own. State and federal intellectual property laws can help you but it’s up to you to help yourself first.
Here are 10 important tips for making sure your ideas or inventions stay your property:
- File for protection. One way to safeguard your invention or idea is to file for protection under U.S. patent, trademark, and copyright laws. However, it can be tricky to decide which of these three vehicles is most appropriate for the protection of your work — some products or services require a patent, a trademark and/or a copyright. Each category protects a distinct aspect of a creative work or expression and all three categories fall under the heading of “intellectual property.”
- Invest in legal counsel. It’s worth the investment to engage the services of an experienced small business or intellectual property (IP) attorney. He or she can help you to make the proper distinction regarding whether or not to file for a patent, a trademark and/or copyright.
- Arm yourself with knowledge. Even though it’s advisable to leave the big decisions to an attorney, it’s a smart idea to bone up on intellectual property rights yourself, even if you just read some books on the subject. Knowledge is power.
- Be realistic. Don’t convince yourself that just because you’ve had an idea trademarked, it will be successful. It just means the idea is protected should it become a success.
- Respect the work of others. Even though you have protected your own rights, make sure you are not stepping on the rights of others. Don’t “borrow” someone else’s idea or imitate a specific product or service.
- Present a complete picture. Take the time to fully develop your idea before launching it into the universe. When you come to the table with an idea that has been well research, is trademarked or has a patent pending, you greatly increase your odds of attracting investors or getting lending institutions on your side.
- Give yourself a competitive advantage. Just because you think there’s no competition out there for your business, don’t use that as an argument not to spend the money to protect your idea. Legal protection gives you the opportunity to participate in investor-sponsored entrepreneurship seminars, where you can learn from other’s marketing strategies and business-building ideas.
- Use nondisclosure agreements. You may wonder how to build momentum among investors, business partners and prospective hires while still protecting your trade secrets. A common approach is to make sure that anyone you share the information with signs a “nondisclosure agreement” (NDA) prior to your disclosure. Typical NDAs contractually obligate signatories to refrain from disclosing confidential information without the disclosing party’s expressed consent.
- Rely on legal protection. It is impossible to keep an idea under lock and key. All the physical protection in the world — safes, security codes, guards — can’t stop an employee from walking out the front door with your idea. The good news is that the court system is increasingly recognizing the value of intellectual property and is taking steps to protect your rights of ownership.
- Be patient. Realize that it takes time to license a patent or obtain a copyright or trademark. In the meantime, you can continue to build and grow your idea under the radar.