We’ve all had them: a flash of inspiration that provides us with a moment of genius and suddenly an idea for a great business surfaces in our consciousness. Great ideas can seemingly come out of nowhere, but what can we do with them once the light bulb has been switched on?
To begin with, understand that in order for your idea to take physical form, no matter what it is, the idea will have to be pitched to various people throughout the life of the business. As the business grows, you must be able to sell the idea to employees, customers, investors, and others in order to support and nurture that growth.
However, sharing your ideas with the world provides the inherent danger that the idea might be stolen from you. Idea theft can be a concern for many business owners, especially those who see seek to gain a competitive advantage by being at the forefront of a given market. There is always the risk that a competitor with deep pockets may take your idea and run with it, leaving you and your business in the dust. While this risk may not ever be completely eliminated, here are 5 things that you can do in order to protect yourself from idea theft:
- Hold your tongue until an NDA is signed. When you first have a great idea, the best thing to do is keep as much about it a secret as you can. If you must talk about the idea to potential clients or investors, only reveal to them what is most necessary. Request they sign an NDA – non-disclosure agreement – prior to your willingness to talk about the idea.
- Get to know who you are talking to. When pitching your idea to anyone, it is always a good plan to research and find out what you can about the people you are dealing with. The more you know, the better you can spot a potential idea thief.
- Use trademarks and patents. This one may be one of the most obvious, but it is none the less still worth mentioning. If you believe you have an idea that a competitor would love to get their hands on, protect it with legal documentation. High level investors will want to see that you have taken time to protect the idea in order to feel safe about their patronage as well.
- Document everything. If you create a paper trail of the idea from conception to realization, this will be a tremendous help to you if the idea in question is ever fought over in a court room. Write down what you can, when you can.
- Listen to your gut. This is the best advice anyone can give you when it comes to the protection of your idea. There will be many crossroads with which you may have some very tough decisions about your idea, but your instincts are always going to be your best ally. You may not make every decision correctly, but listening to your gut will almost always eventually lead you to where you want to go.
To recap, never ask someone to help you or pitch an idea without an NDA, leave a paper trail, and first and foremost, patent or copyright your idea. This is a simple way to ensure that your million-dollar brainstorm does not get “swooped” up by someone with bigger resources than you.