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 obtain a patent. This process, however, can be costly, not to mention time consuming as they can potentially take years to be approved. There are other cost effective strategies that you can use to protect your idea from being stolen.
There are a few legal tools to help protect your idea. These tools include a Non-disclosure Agreement, a Non-compete Agreement, and a Work for Hire Agreement.
Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA): An agreement that commits any party working on your idea to confidentiality and prevents them from sharing information with third parties. Make sure to take note of the expiration date of the agreement and whether it requires you to notify the other party of whether the information shared is, in fact, confidential.
Non-Compete Agreement: An agreement that is useful to prevent an individual or entity from establishing a business that would directly compete with your own. This form can be utilized with anyone you hire to work with or for you on your idea.
Work for Hire Agreement: An agreement that assists you the opportunity to own any or all improvements made to your idea or product by another party. For example, if the product designer you hired recommends you change an aspect of your product to make it more user friendly or easier to manufacture, this improvement is essentially yours. Utilizing a Work for Hire Agreement still requires other parties to be listed as co-inventors on any patents.
An important step in protecting your idea is to consider the reputation of the person or company with which you plan to do business. Make sure to conduct thorough research on all companies that you may utilize to help establish your product.
Here are some key questions to consider:
Typically, entering the company name in a search engine along with the keywords, “fraud” or “scam,” will certainly give you more comfort if the search does not yield 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 templates online or you can use the assistance of a patent attorney.
Consider registering a trademark, as well, which, although more expensive, means that you create some piece of ownership over the name, symbols and brand of your product. This is an extremely effective marketing tool.
Know who your competitors are, know where they operate, and where 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 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.