Protecting Your Business Idea

            One of the most pervasive forms of theft in the United States is the theft of ideas or intellectual property. While a thief stealing valuables out of your car may be repaired in time with curtailed spending and maybe some help from your insurance company, a thief stealing your idea or intellectual property can dramatically affect your current and future potential livelihood. The thought of protecting intellectual property rights often causes people to think of patents; however, there are other mechanisms that can be used to protect ideas and intellectual property rights. This article seeks to equip you with an understanding of the tools at your disposal for protecting your idea and business.

Private Agreement

            Private agreements can allow you to share your idea as needed with potential business partners, service providers and product developers with a level of comfort. The paragraphs below discuss the most common agreements used to create a level of security between you and the parties with whom you conduct business.

One such agreement is the non-disclosure agreement. Non-disclosure agreements create an obligation on the other party to keep your idea or intellectual property confidential. This agreement provides you with legal recourse should the other party reveal confidential information to third parties. This agreement can bind either party or both parties to secrecy. The actual terms and content of the agreement will depend on the relationship and circumstances between the parties. The lack of an expiration date within a non-disclosure agreement can provide additional security for your ideas and intellectual property.

The next type of private agreement is the non-compete agreement. A non-compete agreement prohibits parties from creating direct competition for your business within a defined geographical area. One limitation of non-compete agreements is that they must not restrict the opposing party’s ability to pursue a livelihood. For instance, it is generally not permissible to forbid someone from working in an entire industry anywhere in the nation for an unlimited duration.

The last type of agreement is a work-for-hire agreement. These agreements are explicit about who owns the intellectual property rights to the product, including any improvements that the other party may develop, or assist you in developing. This agreement works well when other parties assist you in developing the product. The other party may be listed as a co-inventor on the patent, but this listing does not grant them rights in the product with an effective work-for-hire agreement in place.

Resources Available from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)

The USPTO has provided other resources to assist you in developing your idea into a business and protecting that idea. One of the tools offered is a provisional patent application. The provisional patent protects intellectual property for up to 1 year, during which business owners can list their patented products as patent pending.

Another form of protection offered by the USPTO is a trademark. Much like a patent, a trademark aids you in establishing ownership of the idea. Products are generally driven by brand names, and registered trademarks advance public perception that your products and ideas are one in the same. Trademarks registered with the USPTO help to secure the brand name associated with a product. However, keep in mind that the trademark application fee is significantly higher than the provisional patent.

The USPTO website is a helpful resource that details the application requirements of patents and trademarks. The USPTO also offers a phone line for general questions about the patent and trademark application process and basic guidance.

Screen Your Business Associates

            Prior to establishing business relationships with individuals and entities, use the internet and other background search resources to your advantage to research potential business partners, service providers and product developers. Digging into what is available may reveal less than flattering information such as less than exemplary track records in past transactions and complaints regarding business activities and procedures. If the results don’t give you peace of mind regarding the person’s abilities, intentions,  values, ethics and business practices and procedures, then cut off the relationship early. Business ventures are hard enough without having to contend with, and being strapped to, someone who you don’t feel comfortable working with after an investigation into their past.

Ideas and intellectual property are often the most important foundation of any business. Although it may seem like your only options are to proceed without legal counsel or spend thousands of dollars on an intellectual property lawyer, this is not the case.

The legal professionals at Dodson Legal Group have experience filing trademarks and drafting agreements that can protect your ideas and intellectual property. Call 844-4DODSON toll free to schedule a consultation and learn more about how you can continue to develop your product and business with adequate legal protection in place.