A Handy Guide To Safeguarding Your Intellectual Property
Protecting business ideas is a crucial step in every entrepreneur’s journey. Your idea may seem like a small thing now, but you don’t know what it could end up being. Every amazing product or brand started with just a simple idea, but without protection, someone could steal your idea and turn it into their own success story. Fortunately, there are various ways to keep your ideas secure and confirm that you are the legally recognised owner.
Why Is Protecting a Business Idea So Important?
Before we get started on how to protect your business idea, the first thing we have to address is why it is so important. Just think about all the hard work you put into your business idea. You may have spent hours designing it, or invested money in getting prototypes made. The last thing you want is for someone else to steal your idea and make a ton of money from it while taking credit for everything. There have been many disputes about intellectual property ownership throughout history and some of the biggest companies today are involved in constant ongoing battles with their competition, notably Coca Cola vs Pepsi, and Apple vs Samsung.
What Is Intellectual Property?
Intellectual Property is the legal right to an idea which ensures that only the inventor or owner has the right to profit from that idea. Protecting your intellectual property rights is so important because it is the only way to stop other people from stealing your concepts, designs or recipes, and using them to make money.
The Different Types Of Intellectual Property
Intellectual Property can be classified in four different ways: Patents, Trademarks, Copyrights, and Intellectual Property Protections (Trade Secrets). Each type provides protection for something unique and each one expires at different times giving you more options when it comes time to renew your legal rights over the years of ownership. See my earlier article on this topic.
How Can You Check If Your Idea Is 100% Original?
The best way to protect your idea is to make sure that it’s 100% original. What does this mean? It means you have created the invention from scratch, and no one else has invented an invention just like yours before. If someone else has come up with a similar idea before you, then they might be able to claim ownership of the same intellectual property as you, especially if they filed their patent or trademark first! So how do you know if your business idea is original?
The first thing you can do to ensure your idea is original, is go online and search for at least 20 similar ideas. If you find an identical concept or trademark already in use then it’s best not to pursue that business plan any further.
The next step would be to ask around: talk with other entrepreneurs about their company, what products they sell, and if anyone has a product like yours on the market right now.
You can also check existing patents to see if there is already a similar product to yours. The easiest way to do this is to contact the patent and trademark offices in the relevant country. In the UK, this is the Intellectual Property Office.
How Can You Keep Your Idea Confidential?
One of the best ways to protect your idea is to keep it confidential. For example, don’t talk about this idea with anyone or mention that you’re working on an invention at a meeting where others might overhear you. Also make sure people involved in the project are also discreet and know the importance of confidentiality as well. You may want to consider having everyone involved in your project sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). NDAs are useful because they specifically state what needs to be kept confidential and set out the consequences of a breach.
What Evidence Can Prove It Was Your Original Idea?
If someone tries to steal your idea, it is very important that you have the necessary evidence to prove that the idea was yours.
The first type of evidence is something that should be created before any other steps are taken: a written and signed statement claiming ownership over the idea or invention. In order for this piece of paper to work as proof, it needs to have at least one signatory who has been authorised by all parties involved in development, such as investors, inventors, designers and marketers.
You can also present dated drawings, sketches, prototypes and other tangible pieces of evidence that show the idea was created by you. With modern smartphones and cameras, you can take photos of this evidence with the date tag on so that you can show when it was first produced.
How Can You Secure Worldwide Protection?
There are many ways to secure worldwide protection for your idea but the best is usually through a global patent. These last for twenty years before expiring which makes them the best option if you want long-term coverage without needing to take many further steps once the patent is registered. A worldwide patent will grant you exclusive rights to use your invention in whichever way you see fit.
If you are only planning on marketing your product in certain countries, one way to save money is by filing a patent in every country you want protection rather than across the whole world. You can always file for a patent in other countries later if you decide to expand into new markets.
However, patents aren’t always securable because of some types of products or services. If this is the case, you may instead want to look at the options of a global trademark. This can offer you the worldwide protection you need from intellectual property theft but will usually have a higher cost upfront than a patent.
Protecting your business ideas is so important because it prevents other people and companies from stealing your intellectual property and using it to profit. The safest way to keep your ideas safe is to guard your sensitive information, and secure the relevant protection.
Always make sure that you keep all evidence that shows you are the inventor/owner of your intellectual property, and if someone else does try to steal it, consult with experienced attorneys about how to stop them. Every successful brand and business started from a great idea, so make sure you look after yours!
Written by Stephen Taylor, Propaganda CEO