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.
This article will provide a step-by-step guide on how to best protect yourself from intellectual property theft, and explain the unique protections offered for different types of products and services.
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, notable 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.
A patent is a set of exclusive rights granted by the government to an inventor for their new invention. The patent holder can prevent others from making, using or selling that invention without permission. In order to obtain these rights, inventors must apply and go through the process of testing, examination and granting before they receive any protection. It’s important to note that a patent is only enforceable in the countries where it has been registered and issued, so you need to try and make sure you have patents covering as many countries as possible (with a Worldwide Patent being the most secure). There are two main types of patents: utility patents (products) and design patents (applied to art).
Trademarks are used to protect words, names and symbols that identify a specific product or service. Trademarks can be very powerful because they have worldwide protection. As the owner of your mark, you will be able to prevent others from using confusingly similar trademarks when selling goods or providing services. Trade name law protects companies against other people trying to register their company with identical logos and business names, and provides legal recourse if they do. Companies can have more than one trademark. For example, Nike has three; the name “Nike”, the slogan “Just Do It”, and the Nike “Swoosh” logo.
A copyright is a form of intellectual property protection that gives the owner (a person or company) exclusive legal rights to certain types of creative and artistic work. Copyright law protects original written works, images, music, films, software programs, choreography and other forms of media by granting owners such as authors, photographers, and song writers ownership over their creations for a limited time period. This means that only the owner can make copies or derive new products from those materials without violating copyright laws.
A work is automatically copyrighted the moment it’s created and recorded in a tangible form.. Copyright protection usually lasts for 70 years following the death of the owner or 50 years after publication if anonymous or pseudonymous. The three requirements to secure copyrights are having originality; being able to prove you own exclusive rights over your work; and not breaching any international treaty obligations.
Trade secrets are anything that a company does not want to share with the public. They may be formulas, processes or techniques that give them an advantage over their competitors, or may be customer lists and other business-related information which are considered confidential under law. In practice, trade secrets are often more difficult to protect than other intellectual property because they depend on nobody disclosing them.
A great example of a successful trade secret protection is Coca-Cola’s formula for Coke. The recipe has never been revealed publicly and only top level employees have access to it as well as one member from every family line going back to 1892. The company employs extensive security measures, including limited internal information distribution, secured laboratories with restricted entryways and keycodes, and strict non-disclosure agreements.
How can you check 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 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.
How can you limit access to sensitive and secure information?
One of the best ways you can protect your intellectual property is by limiting access to sensitive and secure information. You should only share this with those who need it, or when absolutely necessary for the success of your business idea. It’s important not to leave sensitive documents lying around on desks at work, or in an unattended briefcase in a coffee shop, as there are many people out there just waiting for an opportunity.
As much as possible, try to have only one online location where everyone has their own unique login credentials so they cannot get into other peoples files without authorisation. Sensitive information may include trade secrets, designs, client lists, and highly confidential data pertaining to personnel issues such as non-disclosure agreements and employee salaries/benefits.
Speak to IT security experts who will be able to advise and demonstrate how to protect any digital records or files. They will know the best practices and how to create a system that only allows access to those who need it. They will advise you how to encrypt documents before opening them, as well as showing you the most secure ways to backup your files at different intervals so you can always restore the most recent version if needed.
How can lawyers help to protect your intellectual property and business ideas?
Intellectual property is an asset that many individuals and businesses overlook when it comes to protecting themselves against theft, but lawyers have extensive knowledge about how intellectual property laws work and what legal steps must be followed before coming up with new business plans. For this reason, they can offer invaluable assistance when it comes to safeguarding your ideas.
Lawyers can help with the following things:
- Drafting a confidentiality agreement that will help with preventing your ideas from being stolen by employees or clients.
- Advising on how to best protect your idea through the various intellectual property protections available, such as patents and trademarks.
- Organising patent searches in order to make sure that you don’t infringe on any existing IP law.
- Filing a lawsuit if anyone does try to steal your idea or infringe on your protections.
To find the best lawyers to protect your ideas, ask for referrals from friends or business associates, and check with your local bar association to see if there are any members who specialise in intellectual property law. Experience is always important so always look out for a lawyer who has dealt with similar cases as yours.
To sum up
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!