The birth of a company and the idea that fuels it can come at any time. If entrepreneurs waited until the conditions were ideal to start a business, many of the brands that we've come to know and rely on may never have gotten off the ground. Often early-stage businesses are run on shoestring budgets, trying to stretch every dollar as far as it can go.
Part of keeping a fledgling company on a strict budget means having to cut expenses wherever possible. The patent process can be costly and often is sacrificed at the altar of expediency and thrift for many an inventor. And while protecting your valuable intangible assets is vitally important to your long term prospects, there are means of keeping your ideas as secure as possible while working to bring the product to market.
Who Owns an Invention?
There are many inventors who choose to go it alone when setting out to create their works, and while the solo path can prove challenging, they do have the advantage of avoiding the ownership snafus that can arise in group projects. Battles over ultimate ownership of a creation have broken apart partnerships and businesses across industries. When working with a group, be sure to have a written agreement between all parties that outlines who owns what parts of your work, and the disposition of that ownership stake should any creators choose to leave the company.
Can You Patent Your Creation?
The work put into creating can be for nothing if what you make isn't something that you can patent. To be deemed worthy of patent, your creation has to be considered unique and must serve a purpose. It also can't be something that is already in existence, so it behooves any inventor to do the requisite research before accidentally reinventing the wheel. If you can meet those criteria, you can feel confident in cautiously starting your work knowing you should be able to get a patent at the right time.
Can You Keep It to Yourself?
It's a natural impulse to be excited about working on a new and innovative product. But if you don't yet have the patent for your new design, it's best not to go talking about it all over town, offering specifics that other people might be able to copy. A non-disclosure agreement (NDA) will prevent your employees and contractors, as well as any customers or others that you come into contact with professionally, from talking about the details of what you're working on. Generally speaking, it's best to share details on your work with only those who need to know, but having an NDA adds an additional layer of security.
Will Your Secrets Walk Out the Door?
Difficult as it may be to believe, there may come the day when one or more people leave your employ, by choice or otherwise. When this day comes, you'll be glad to have added non-compete clauses to your agreements. These prevent former employees or contractors or anyone else that you've worked with from taking the information they learned from your company and using it to start their own business or go to work for a competitor. Each company has the latitude to determine the length of time and area applicable in its non-compete agreements.
Will Others Try to Claim Your Idea?
In order to continue work on your project, you may be required to turn to outside help for things beyond your expertise. Having someone else doing substantive work on your creation raises the spectre of having someone else trying to come in and take credit for what you've devised. Should you have to go outside of your company to find someone to assist on your product, make sure to have them sign a work-for-hire agreement that stipulates that you own the work they do for you, and that they don't have a claim upon your creation.