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Stop, Thief!

Protecting your invention from copycats and crooks.

At some point, you'll need to share your idea with others who can help you. This can be very frightening. Who can you trust? How do you find the right people to do business with? Let's be candid. You may be inexperienced in many areas of business, so you are a likely target to be taken advantage of. Well, here is some help.

First, let me say there are many respectable people with whom to do business. Many individuals will go to great lengths to be fair and honest. At some point, however, most of us will come in contact with less-than-scrupulous people. To protect yourself, you need to know the signs and what to look out for.

Blatant crooks who will steal your idea are not very common. More common are people who charge for useless and unnecessary services, give unusually high quotes for work, tie up your idea without doing anything with it, or analyze your intellectual property and develop a legal knockoff. These people are especially dangerous because the law won't necessarily protect you from them.

The possibility of someone stealing your idea is a very real concern, but probably not in the context you initially imagine. Instead, they will wait in the bushes and watch while you do all the work and spend money advertising and marketing your idea. The moment it becomes successful, they'll arrive on the scene to catch the wave of your success and sell your idea for less.

Tomima Edmark is the inventor of the TopsyTail and several other products and is author of The American Dream Fact Pack ($49.95), available by calling (800) 558-6779. Questions regarding inventions and patents may be sent to "Bright Ideas," Entrepreneur, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92614.

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This article was originally published in the January 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Stop, Thief!.

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