You might be thinking, “How do I make my idea a reality without sharing it with others?” At some point, you will need to share your ideas with designers, manufacturers, distributors and marketing experts. The most common way of protecting your idea is, of course, to get a patent. Unfortunately, this process can be costly and patents can sometimes take years to be approved. There are, however, other cost effective strategies you can use to protect your idea from being stolen.
There are a few legal tools to help protect your idea that include a Non-Disclosure Agreement, a Non-Compete Agreement and a Work for Hire Agreement.
A Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) is an agreement that commits any party working on your idea to confidentiality and prevents them from sharing information with third parties. Make sure that you take note of the expiration date on the agreement and whether it requires you to notify the other party of whether the information being shared in confidential.
A Non-Compete Agreement can be useful to prevent an individual or entity from establishing a business that would directly compete with your own business. You can use this form of agreement with anyone you hire to work with or for you on your idea.
A Work for Hire Agreement assists you in owning any or all improvements that have been made to your idea or product by another party. For example, the product designer you have hired has recommended you change an aspect of your product to make it manufacturer or user friendly. This type of agreement means that these improvements essentially become your property. Be mindful that if this type of agreement is used, you will still need to list the other party as co-inventor on any patents.
An important step in protecting your idea is to consider and determine the reputation of the person or company in which you are planning to collaborate. Your idea or product is valuable and, because of this, you want to make sure that you do thorough research on all companies you enlist to help establish your product. How much experience does the company have? Are there any forums discussing the operation or service from the company? Are there any complaints or feedback? You may also choose to meet with the organization for a brief consultation to get a better feel for how they operate as you can see firsthand if they seem professional and trustworthy.
Typically, entering the company name in a search engine along with the keywords “fraud” or “scam” will certainly give you additional comfort if your search does not bring any results.
You can file a provisional patent for a fraction of the price of a normal patent. Additionally, a provisional patent will protect your idea for up to one year and allows you to label your idea as patent pending. There are do it yourself (DIY) templates online or you can enlist the assistance of a patent attorney.
Consider registering a trademark which, although may be more expensive, allows you to create some sense of ownership over the name, symbols and/or brand of your product, which can be a very effective tool for future marketing purposes.
The most vital piece of advice I can offer is to know who your competitors are, where they operate and how far their market extends. You can also try to establish a mutually beneficial relationship with your competitor, which means that they are less likely to try and take or directly profit from your business.
In some circumstances, revealing your idea to the public may mean that you lose your rights to the idea. If you happen to disclose your idea to the public, it then becomes public knowledge and means that your idea may no longer be patentable. You also run the risk of someone getting a patent on the idea before you.