You worked hard to develop an amazing business idea, and the last thing you need is someone to steal it and launch the venture before you. There are instances when you need to share business information with another party, but when it comes to unique business ideas you need to ensure the other party understands the data is confidential and they aren’t allowed to use it to your detriment. 

Having your idea stolen is the worst nightmare you can have. When playing the role of the idea-guy you are afraid that someone will start their own business based on the innovative business you came up with. But you can protect your business idea. Here is how. 

Often, idea theft comes from within your team

Horror stories with strangers stealing from strangers are rare. Often, co-founders steal business ideas. As a founder, you may be afraid of presenting your idea to an investor because they may steal your business. 

Outside thieves are less dangerous than inside ones. You need to execute your idea to be successful. Ideas work like multipliers; their execution is the one that makes you rich. When presenting the idea to the investor you don’t provide them with all the details. You offer them information to help them understand why it’s successful. 

Your employees and co-founders, on the other hand, have plenty of knowledge to use your idea to start their own business. The difference between them and investors is that they know how to execute the idea. So, protecting the future of your business starts with identifying the team members that can execute your idea before you do it. 

Carefully select the people you work with

When selecting potential employees, co-founders or investors you need to search for red flags that warn you about their mischievous intentions. Before sharing your idea to someone, you need to ask yourself the following questions. 

  • Does their employment history show any warning signs?
  • Do other companies claim the investor stole their business idea?
  • Do you have disgruntled team-members?
  • Can you find public records of complaints from people they previously collaborated with?

Run background checks for each of the people you intend to present your idea to. It’s advisable to collaborate with investors who previously worked with other entrepreneurs and supported them to start their own business. 

Before sharing your idea to employees and investors, you should seek for legal support because you need to ensure you are protected from a legal standpoint. They will ensure your chances of winning are good if someone steals your idea. 

Come up with an idea difficult to steal

The best way to protect your idea is to ensure it’s difficult for someone to copy it. You can call it a good strategy to come up with an idea no engineer or entrepreneur can execute without your help. All the legal protection in the world cannot help you if you don’t patent your idea and one of your co-founders can apply it. On a certain level all ideas can be reverse engineered, but they cannot be copied. So, you need to come up with one people find hard to copy. 

A unique idea gives you the advantage that it takes time for your competitors to catch up with it. For a start-up to succeed, the entrepreneur needs to understand how legal protection works, and how an original idea can become successful, even if someone tries to execute it. Without the right details, they’ll never be able to launch the same product on the market. 

Talk to an expert and get the paperwork in order

Hire an attorney to determine what parts of your idea can be copyrighted, patented or trademarked. It’s advisable to have all the co-founders and employees who work on the idea under strict, written agreement. Their written consent to keep your idea confidential ensures you that no one will walk away or sell your proprietary knowledge. 

Ensure that in your country you can patent your idea because in some states legal framework allows patenting only for a machine, article or process. This means that you’ll have to execute your idea before you patent it. Legal notions are confusing for many entrepreneurs so advisory of a patent attorney is highly needed. It’s advisable to hire an expert because patenting is a complex and time-consuming job. 

You own the copyright to anything you create. So, if one of your employees came up with the idea, then they own the copyrights. Not you. With the right paperwork in place, they can walk away or sell the information or assets. 

At first, you may think that involving an attorney is a sign of mistrust, but when you thoroughly consider it, you understand that it can boost trust between team members or between you and your investors. The more time passes without NDA documents in place, the higher the mistrust. When you collaborate with multiple entrepreneurs to come up with an idea, you are not the only one who is afraid that one of them will walk away with it. And the more mistrust they gain, the more likely they are to be the ones who leave. Bottom-line, legal counselling can help you develop a successful project. 

What you should do as a first-time startupper?

Don’t be afraid to share your idea with your team and investors. Recruit as many people as possible in your team before the idea is complete and ready for execution, but ensure not to disclose the essential details before they sign an NDA document. By spreading the word about your business idea, you raise awareness of potential clients, investors, and you gain feedback that can help you improve the product before launching it. 

Patenting and trademark registration add credibility and value to your brand, so you should consider them even during the initial stages of development. Once you have the documentation in place don’t be afraid to share your idea with the others. Fear of an investor who isn’t interested in your business, this is the worst of two evils. 

Author's Bio: 

Cynthia Madison