I know that one of your greatest entrepreneurial fears is having your business idea stolen while presenting it for licensing or partnership. It is one of mine!
It is crucial for you to get out into the world and share your business ideas with possible investors, partners, and companies.
Tons of powerful business ideas and products NEVER come to market because their investors are scared of intellectual property theft.
You know that you must protect your business idea but you don’t have a patent or tons of money or time to get one. Or perhaps your idea or invention is not patentable. What then?
Keep reading to learn the best ways to protect your business idea without a patent – many of them cost little to no money. These are the tactics I used successfully and recommend to my clients.
Getting this knowledge will be the first step to getting out into the world of business with your brilliant ideas.
14 Ways to Protect Your Business Idea Without a Patent
Tactic #1: DIY Patent Search
Conduct your own patent search on the US Trademark and Patent website. This is the official site with instructions and links to all the different databases. https://www.uspto.gov/patents-application-process/search-patents
Document your findings and store the report in a secure location. You can elect to get it notarized to establish the date or do the poor man’s patent – mail it to yourself and keep in the sealed envelope!
Tactic #2 Professional Patent Search Trademark Copyright
Spend a small amount of money (less than a cheap TV set) for a professional patent search. I have successfully used Legalzoom for many projects.
By hiring, legal professionals, who are experts at patent searches, will yield you the best results. They will search the multiple government databases for patents, trademarks, and copyrights related to your concept.
This professionally prepared report will be a valuation section in your proposal to investors. Not only will it impress them with your thoroughness, and it will also answer many of their intellectual property questions.
Tactic #3 Provisional Patent
This is a stop along the road to a fully issued patent. Here you are beginning the product patent application process, after a professional patent search has been conducted. It costs far less and is much quicker than a complete patent submission.
In fact, once you submit the application, you can begin immediately using the important designation “Patent Pending” to be applied to your products. Often these two words are enough to scare off possible idea thieves and inform your investors of your seriousness. The cost is surprisingly affordable at Legalzoom – get the latest discount here.
Tactic #4 Trademark Search
You could either conduct a trademark search yourself on the USPTO website. Here is the link along with helpful suggestions from patent attorneys on how to best search here
Or you can spend a surprisingly small amount of money (less than $200 at Legalzoom here) and have a professional trademark search done by legal professionals.
Doing this will uncover similar concepts and products currently being sold or planning to be brought to market. Then you can modify your products or how about contacting those companies and partners to develop a full line of products/inventions together.
Tactic #5 Copyright
Copyrights are generally reserved for artistic works and other forms of intellectual property.
However, you can use a copyright to protect various written parts of your concepts such as product names, product images (such as board game graphics) brochure copy, and slogans.
Read more about the copyright services I recommend for entrepreneurs here
Tactic #6 Trade Secrets
A trade secret is a proprietary knowledge that is of value to the final production of the product or service.
The most famous example is the formula for Coca-Cola which is actually a trade secret and not patented.
Learn more about what is a trade secret and how to protect it in my article here
Tactic #7 Service Mark
If your business idea is in the form of a service you will want to explore getting a service mark as opposed to a trademark that is reserved for physical or digital products.
A service mark would be used to protect your service name and process such as the American Airlines flight service.
Instead of the symbol R which is used for the registered trademark, you would use the symbol S which stands for registered service mark.
Tactic #8 Non Disclosure Confidentiality Agreement
You can ask potential investors, license buyers, and key employees to sign NDA or non-disclosure agreements. These legal instruments, here’s a free one from our friends at LegalZoom, are legal protection for your business idea.
However, know that many large companies and investors will not sign these agreements. These people are not intentionally planning on stealing your ideas. Often they have company policies in place,. because other people may have earlier disclosed similar ideas and they do not want a lawsuit. However, it is worthwhile to have one on hand and request it.
Use this free non-disclosure agreement from Legalzoom
Tactic #9 Non Compete Agreement
Request that employees, subcontractors and designers execute a non-compete agreement. This is a different legal document than a non-disclosure. This agreement states that this particular individual will not be able to compete directly against your company within an established location marketplace and timeframe.
Our friends at Legalzoom are giving away a free copy of a non-compete agreement for your use here.
Another way to protect yourself from inside theft from employees or those you hire in your product development process is the next tactic to use work for hire agreements.
Tactic #10 Use work for hire agreements
I strongly recommend that you use a standard work for hire agreement such as the free one here by our friends at LegalZoom.
Use for any individuals that you hire to help you develop your business idea invention. This usually includes model makers, engineers, designers, and manufacturing consultants.
- That you are the owner of this invention
- You have hired this individual for a job
- They are not co inventors
- They do not have any claims to your intellectual property and future patents
Tactic #11 Partial Disclosure
Use aunt Betty’s technique she uses to protect her treasured recipe for Lemon Squares – don’t tell people everything you add! She may give you the recipe but it won’t be complete.
Protect your business idea by purposely leaving out key parts of the manufacturing process of your invention. By withholding this information the people that you share with cannot properly steal your business idea or duplicate your invention exactly.
Tactic #12 Investigate the Individual
Before you meet any potential investors or companies for product licensing negotiations do your due diligence research.
Who is this individual or organization and what is their reputation and past business dealings? Try to ascertain if they are honest, straight dealing business people with a good track record of partnerships or whether they are unscrupulous and underhanded.
Based on your research, decide to meet with them or not. Better to know about the type of person you are dealing with than to walk into a dangerous situation unprepared with your precious business idea.
Tactic #13 Make Friends with Your Competitors
How about an interesting about-face? Get your competitors onto your success team. Contact them and ask them to manufacture your product so that they profit from your success. You would be hiring them as subcontractors.
This is a very wise and proven business model. Your competitors often have manufacturing plants in place that could easily create your product plus they usually have beneficial sales contacts in your industry also.
Tactic #14 Establish a Confidential Relationship
If you can establish the concept of a “confidential relationship” (which is a legal term) with your business partner dealing with prospect investors you are granted some protection under the law.
While a signed agreement is the best protection an implied confidential relationship can be legally binding. You will want to prove that an “implied confidential relationship” existed because these factors were present:
- You told the person that this invention was a business proposition
- You requested payment
- When you disclose your business idea you asked that it be kept confidential
- The information about your business idea is a trade secret because it has commercial value and was not known by your competitors.
My fellow entrepreneurs, now that you know the many ways you can protect your business idea without a patent, get out there and start selling your idea and making money.
Most good business ideas die in secret for fear of being stolen.
Don’t let yours die unnecessarily.
Check out my guide on how to start your business right with tons of useful tips I learned by successfully starting, building, and selling multiple companies.