Preventing a Business Idea from Being Stolen/ Shoplifted

While many people are apprehensible that a Business Idea can be snavelled from them, many more are even worrisome that the same can be made even better to achieve higher objectives. In this vein, one’s priority should not only be to conceal the idea but continuously build on it while protecting it. The object of this article therefore is to help you protect your business idea but also make it better to achieve more results.

Let us help you secure your idea

Start-up business idea can be protected in two ways:

  • Preventing Insider Theft.
  • Owning the Rights to the spine of your idea.

i. Preventing Insider Theft

Most ideas are stolen internally. Perhaps you have a tussle with your cofounder who planned to launch your competition before you even started or maybe you hired an employee who later turned on to be your new competitor. In any of the cases, protecting your idea from internal theft is essential.

Be wary of someone competent enough to be your competitor. For example, an Operations Manager who knows your institution’s confines, a cofounder, or even a prospective investor can turn out to be your potential competitor in the future. The key is to be careful with people in similar industry and possess the potential to run a business idea parallel to yours.

The internal audience knows how you plan to convert your vision into reality. They know people you work with or are planning to work with, and they know your partners well. Internal theft takes away a lot more than just your idea.

Having said so, what are some of the preventive measures to effect so as to protect a business idea? You can use the following contracts to enhance commitment and help protect your idea:

An NDA is a legally binding contract establishing a confidential relationship between the parties involved. It prevents people you work with from sharing information with third parties.

It prevents the people or entities you work with from starting a competing business.

It prevents the people you hire to build your offering from owning anything they add to the offering. Any invention they derive becomes your own.

ii.Owning the Rights to the spine of your idea

Since people get an idea all the time, the other option is to register the idea you want to work on as an intellectual property:

  • Patents for inventions.
  • Trademarks for brand identity.
  • Copyrights for ideas that are expressed.

i. Patents

A patent is a right granted to you as an inventor by the government to prevent others from making, replicating, selling, or using your inventions for a period of time.

If your startup idea  is an invention like a process, device, machinery, tool, composition, or a formula; you can register it with your government to get ownership and prevent others from getting even close to your startup idea.

It is important to remember that an idea, in and of itself, cannot be patented. However, almost anything that is more than just an idea and has a physical presence can be patented, as long as it has the following characteristics:

An invention is an act of bringing ideas or objects together in a novel way to create something that did not exist before.

This means that your invention must meet the legal definition of “novel.”

Your idea should not be anything anyone can invent.

By patentable subject matter, it is meant that it should usually belong to a patentable category and meet the government’s standards set forth.

Generally, patents are given to the inventions falling in these categories; Business methods, Computer software, hardware & accessories, Games, Internet advances, Jewelry, Machines, Magic tricks, Makeup, Musical instruments, Perfumes, Plants, Sporting Goods among others.

It should further be noted that even though one can patent your invention, you cannot patent your business model because business model in strict legal sense is merely any other fundamental economic process not an invention. That said, the question that comes to the fore is that “if you cannot patent your business model, what can you patent under the category of business methods?

There are a variety of patentable objects such as financial data processing and technological inventions required to make the business model work, among others. For example, Netflix patented its computer-implemented approach for renting movies and TV shows to customers in 2003, and Amazon patented its 1-Click system, etc. All these helped them stand out from the crowd without stopping others from copying what they were up to.

ii. Trademarks

A trademark is a startup’s registered identity that differentiates it from other players. These may include name, logo, tagline and colour. All these may be protected by using a trademark. Anything that distinguishes your brand from others can be trademarked. For instance, Coca-Cola has trademarked its Coca-Cola red colour. To protect others from stealing what you do, make sure you develop and register your brand identity to own it before anyone else.

iii. Copyrights

A copyright is an exclusive legal right you get to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material and authorise others to do the same. Copyrights are used to protect works of authorship, including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works. For example, suppose you own a startup operating in the entertainment industry and wrote a script for a movie series, a copyright gives you ownership of that script and prevents it from being stolen by competitors.

In the same vein, you can register your video game, visual work, dramatic work, sounds, and audio-visual works to protect them from being stolen, copied, or imitated.

Tips to prevent your idea from being stolen

Besides the basic legal protection, there are other usual and unusual practices that you can use to prevent others from stealing your business ideas. These are:

  • Share equity: People are less likely to steal your idea if they become a part of it. Make them the owners and they will happily help you convert your vision to reality.
  • Document Everything: Oftentimes, we leak some secrets ourselves. In order to prove that you communicated the same to others, it is a healthy habit to document conversations, work, meetings, and email the same to the other party.
  • Make your ownership public: If you already got the ownership rights, there’s nothing to lose. Make the ownership public to stop others from copying what you already own.
  • Always do background checks: Always make sure that the person you work with or are planning to work with has a clean history.