Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, this post does not constitute legal advice of any kind, and it is not supposed to be comprehensive in any way.
First off, if you want to grow your idea and eventually earn money with it, sooner or later, you will have to put it in front of potential customers. And in any case, at the latest when your idea generates traction, there will very likely be copycats of some sort.
From ANGRY BIRDS to COCA COLA, everything is being copied these days. Elon Musk is not the only one trying to conquer space and there are alternatives to GOOGLE. When you are successful or have a good idea, someone else will eventually figure out the same idea or will try to piggyback on your success or idea and try to sell a similar product or use a similar brand name to copy what you do.
Does this mean that you should not protect your idea or brand? Absolutely not!
Intellectual property is a business subject, just like accounting or HR. It has to be looked into and done right at the right moment and that moment is not the same for every idea.
I recommend that you do a quick search on the Internet or Wikipedia to acquire some very basic knowledge about what the following basic terms mean and how they differ:
When you are getting started it is difficult to judge how far you should go, and if you are not sure, you should get advice from a professional intellectual property consultant or lawyer or contact your national intellectual property office to get professional advice. IP laws can be very different from one country to another and your protection should also be adapted to your particular business case.
Yet, most times when I meet people that are scared that someone could steal their idea, their worries have very little to do with their knowledge about intellectual property. For many first-time entrepreneurs, it is a big deal to hold on tight to that very first brilliant idea. That’s also why they are so passionate about it. More seasoned entrepreneurs know that ideas are plentiful and that it boils down to getting market validation and executing your idea well.
If fear and worries are holding you back from launching your business, it could also be a sign that you have not thought hard enough about how to execute your idea or that you are missing some crucial market validation.
As humans, we tend to be scared, when we do not know what to do!
So what can you do to protect your idea, if you cannot afford professional IP advice?
Get in touch with your national Intellectual Property Office, your tax money is already paying for the service ; )
But tax-joke aside, there are two more simple tools that may give you some piece of mind, when you are just getting started:
“An i-DEPOT is a means of proving that you developed a product, concept, service, process or company. This is useful in the event of a dispute as to who was the first to devise a creation. You can use an i-DEPOT certificate as proof for various purposes and with respect to various intellectual property rights.” (source: BOIP)
Have a look at the website of the i-DEPOT from the BENELUX Office of Intellectual Propery, on how to apply for an i-DEPOT. An i-DEPOT can potentially be used worldwide for just a couple of USD/EUR to protect your idea for 5 or 10 years and longer. When you are just getting started and you worry that some one could steal your idea, you may want to look into an i-DEPOT.
“A non-disclosure agreement (NDA), also known as a confidentiality agreement(CA), confidential disclosure agreement (CDA), proprietary information agreement (PIA) or secrecy agreement (SA), is a legal contract between at least two parties that outlines confidential material, knowledge, or information that the parties wish to share with one another for certain purposes, but wish to restrict access to or by third parties.” (source: Wikipedia)
NDAs are very commonly used between two parties that want to make business together, so that they can speak openly and freely behind closed doors. I have signed a few NDAs and when you are dealing with professionals, I have never had a problem bringing up the topic and moving forward with one. The only exception that I have personally encountered is with VC’s. Serious VC’s business is to deal with innovative ideas and when you send them your pitch by mail, they will treat it with the necessary discretion, even without an NDA. At least that is the case for the serious and professional ones.
Just do a quick search on the Internet for “NDA template” to find free models to get you started.
The article highlighted that the fear of getting your idea stolen is distinct from the complex topic of intellectual property rights. Intellectual property is a serious topic and sooner or later you will need to look into the subject, and most probably get professional advice. Yet, when you get started with an idea and especially when you are a first-time entrepreneur, the fear and worries of getting your idea stolen weight heavily, because there are so many unknowns and variables that you cannot control. But to prevent that those fears and worries are holding you back too much, the article also offers two easy tools that can give you a little protection and a lot of peace of mind for a very reasonable budget.