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. This process can however be costly, and patents can potentially 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 including a Non-disclosure Agreement, a Non-compete Agreement and a Work for Hire Agreement.
A Non-disclosure Agreement (NDA) is an agreement which commits any party working on your idea to confidentiality and prevents them sharing information with third parties. Make sure you look out for the expiration date of the agreement and whether the agreement requires you to notify the other party of whether the information shared is 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. You can use this form of agreement with anyone you hire to work with/for you on your idea.
A Work for Hire Agreement assists you to own any or all improvements, made to your idea/product, by another party. For example, the product designer you have hired has recommended you change an aspect of your product to make it more manufacture or user friendly. This type of agreement will mean that these improvements are essentially your own. If you use this type of agreement you will still need to list the other party as a co-inventor on any patents.
An important step in protecting your idea is to consider and determine the reputation of the person or company you want to deal with. Make sure you do some thorough research on all companies you may use to help establish your product. How much experience do they have? Are there any forums discussing the operation of this company? Are there any complaints or feedback? You may even choose to meet with the organisations to get a feel for how they operate, or 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 some comfort if you don’t find anything.
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 templates online or you can use the assistance of a patent attorney.
Also consider registering a trademark, which although may be more expensive, means you create some owner ship over the name/symbols/brand of your product, which can be a very effective tool for future marketing.
Know who your competitors are, know where they operate, and where their market extends to. You can also try and establish a mutually beneficial relationship with your competitor, which means they are less likely to try and take your business, or profit from your business.
In some circumstances revealing your idea to the public may mean you lose your rights to the idea. If you disclose your idea to the public, it then becomes public knowledge and therefore the idea may no longer be patentable. You also run the risk of someone getting a patent on the idea before you do.