How to safeguard your ideas or inventions is an important concern for many first time inventors or entrepreneurs. A small business, especially one that is looking to grow, has a lot to consider as they move through the winding roads of business success. Often times, small business owners are concerned about whether or not their innovation or IP can be lost.
While the number of ideas that are legitimately stolen is relatively low, it isn’t an unheard of scenario considering IP theft in the US tops $250 billion annually. Each year, hundreds of cases regarding patent, copyright or trademark infringement are heard in US courts. With this in mind, many business owners might wonder what they can do to protect themselves, especially when a small business is in a delicate growth phrase. We’ve collected three easy ways to safeguard a small business’ innovation.
While the provisional patent has no option for extension, it does protect an invention for the first twelve months, which gives many business owners enough time to get their project off the ground. Provisional patents have the bonus of being relatively affordable, so a business doesn’t have to invest too much while the idea is still in its infancy.
Applying for a patent is easier than you might think. If you think your invention has potential, getting a patent is something you must do. Check out How to Protect your Invention without Breaking the Piggy Bank by Power Patent’s Founder Bao Tran. This will protect you if someone tries to market an idea too similar to your own.
Here are some steps to take in order to get your provisional patent:
- Search for similar patents - As painful as it may be, it is possible that someone might already have acquired a patent of an idea very similar or even identical to the one you have. Free search tools are available or you can connect with our partner PatentTank.
- Fill out and file your application with the USPTO - Patents are tricky and we recommend you seek the help of a professional such as an attorney.
- Filing your patent - After you file for a provisional patent, you will have a year to file a patent (again, we suggest professional advice for filings).
When a business owner is shopping their idea around, whether for new clients or new investors, they are forced to reveal some information about their business or their idea. Now, the majority of people a business meets with have no reason to “steal” their idea or business model, particularly investors.
Not only is it bad form, it is also dangerous to that person’s business reputation. With that being said, business idea theft is not a completely uncommon occurrence. Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) can help protect a fledgling business idea. These agreements are legally binding contracts that ensure the information shared during a business meeting will not be shared with anyone else, including potential competitors. The legally binding agreement gives small business owners some recourse if their business idea is shopped around by a business contact.
For more details, we have written before on whether and when you should request a NDA.
Trademark the name
Experts suggest trademarking a business’ name to all business owners. Not only does it add a layer of protection to the business, but it helps to establish said business. A good company name or slogan are powerful marketing tools. Documentation or proof of when a business was officially started offering its’ products or services may be needed if someone opens a similarly named business. This documentation could also be useful if another party claims you have stolen their idea.
Overall, trademarks are a relatively easy and effective way to safeguard a business.
Take advantage of our free Basic IP Vault that can be used to time-stamp ideas, names, and more. Find more information in the store: