Entrepreneurs lose millions of dollars each year due to intellectual property theft and business espionage. Here are five tips to make sure your idea is protected:
- Write it down. In a password-protected computer or mobile device, meticulously document the details of your idea, recording who you're sharing it with and when. E-mailing the document to yourself can help verify the date in question in a court of law.
- Research and register. Check out wipo.int, ipo.org and your local chamber of commerce website to identify what type of intellectual property you have. A search at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website will determine if someone is already using your idea. When you've determined what type of product you have, register it immediately. Visit the WhoIs database to register and check your domain name's availability.
- Once you register your ideas, take the necessary steps to enforce your rights. "You waive your right to take future legal action if you don't aggressively police your intellectual property," says Alex Weingarten, an intellectual property litigator at Spillane Weingarten LLC.
- Use nondisclosure, noncompete and confidentiality agreements with vendors, investors and employees. Legalzoom.com offers helpful advice. When you're disclosing information, make sure it's only on a need-to-know basis. Also, make sure you regulate the information your employees can access and download.
- Get legal advice. You might need a lawyer who specializes in intellectual property. "Your situation might be OK for standard procedures and forms, or it might need some tailoring," says Weingarten. Arranging for a fixed price instead of being billed hourly can prevent unforeseen costs.