Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Protecting Your Ideas in the Age of Web 2.0

On a few occasions some of my ideas have been lifted by people I thought were my close friends and allies. One heartbreaking occasion was when I worked with a close group of friends on a groundbreaking start-up. After working for months on conceptualizations of product offerings and monetization strategies, I later found out that one of the members lifted these ideas and used them for another company which mimicked exactly the company we were working together on.

Having someone steal your ideas and claim them as their own is a real disheartening experience. I personally don’t think any monetary gain is worth destroying a good friendship over. Friendships can be more rewarding and everlasting if properly nurtured, but you certainly find out who you real friends are in the process of putting together businesses.

I am not a lawyer, so my advice should not come as legal advice but rather as advice from my own personal experience and dealings. If you have a truly original idea, one of the first steps you need to take is to get a legal protection for that idea.

Every time you present your idea to somebody else, you run the risk of your idea being stolen and copied by somebody else. One good way to ensure that no one steals your ideas is to put together an agreement in writing not to discuss your idea with anyone else. This is referred to as a “nondisclosure agreement”. This will ensure that the ideas stay central to investors, business partners, and prospective hires while still protecting your trade secrets.

Another good course of action is to visit your country’s patent and trademark office. In the United States., patents provide "the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling" the invention in the United States or "importing" the invention into the United States. A patent can last between 14-20 years. Patents are especially good for tangible products – goods that can be sold and intended to be marketed.

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