Words by Oviri Clarke
Imagine creating the next best business idea and someone stealing it from you without any repercussions? Terrible, right? In my experience with working with numerous creatives understanding how to protect your idea is vital in preventing the above situation from occurring. When your idea has the potential to be the next Amazon, Uber or Instagram, it is likely that people would want to duplicate, steal and claim your idea as their own. Safeguards that could be used depending on the situations are Patents, Trademark, Copyrights or Non-Disclosure Agreements; all of which can be used in combination to protect your projects. The safeguards have been used by various different types of individuals from big corporations to small start-ups. Reputable brands have had their designs replicated and have had to go into lengthy battles to protect their ideas from being stolen. The long-running dispute between the notorious designer brand Christian Louboutin and Dutch high street shoe company Vanharen over the infringement of the trademark of Louboutin’s famous red sole heels here shows that prevention is better than cure. If you are thinking, “is it really necessary to protect my idea?” The answer is yes! Even though it may be initially time-consuming, it could possibly save you and your start-up money from legal battles like the one mentioned above.
Be Smart, Protect Your Ideas from Copycats
- Non-Disclosure Agreements
The most common and cost-effective way an entrepreneur can protect their ideas from being stolen is via a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). An NDA forms a legal obligation between two parties to prevent one or both parties from exposing, stealing or copying another party’s ideas or concepts. After an NDA is signed one party may threaten to breach the NDA. If this happens, you can get a court injunction to prevent exposure. And if a breach does occur, you may seek compensation. In your start-up, you can use an NDA for a co-founder, employees and for freelancers.
Co-founders – When you go into business with co-founders these are usually with people you trust and respect, however, to start off, even before you discuss your business idea with each other, it is essential that you sign an NDA. Most businesses do not continue with the people that started them as things change and people change over time. The person you thought you could trust may be the person to steal your idea. To be cautious signing an NDA is the best way.
Employees – If you do manage to employ a team or an individual then, you have to make sure that each employee’s contract has a non-disclosure clause in their employment agreements. This will ensure that anyone coming into the company will not be exposing company secrets during their employment and after.
Freelancers – The reasoning for a freelancer signing an NDA is a no brainer. The very nature of a freelancer is that they do not work for anyone apart from themselves and for your own protection it is important to sign an NDA.
Luckily, Aji Ayorinde, who is A qualified UK solicitor and the creative director of MIA LDN, created an NDA template for creative and small businesses after setting up his own business and understanding the importance of protecting artistic projects. Be sure to check out his template here.
- Intellectual Property
Intellectual property is defined as intangible property that is the result of creativity, such as patents, copyrights, trademarks, and designs. In many start-ups, intellectual property provides protection for more than just a concept, it protects valuable features of the business, such as the name of the business and the products the company provides. This is why you should ensure that the valuable features within the company are not used without permission. Undoubtedly, as your business grows the more of these ideas you would have, the best way to deal with imitators is to make sure all your intellectual property within the business is registered and protected.
Trademark – If you have designed your own logo and do not want it stolen you can register it as a trademark. A Trademark is a symbol, word, or words legally registered or established by use as representing a company or product. Registering your trademark would protect your brand, you would be able to freely use your logo or symbols in relation with your projects or business.
Registered Design – Say you’ve just designed the hottest new sneaker on the high street and you don’t want your competitors to steal the design, you can protect this by registered design. Design registration protects the aesthetics of a product, such as the physical shape, decorations, configuration and appearance. A registered design also offers similar protection to that of a trademark.
Patents – If you are in the technology business this type of intellectual property protection is particularly important. A patent is a government authority or licence conferring a right or title for a set period, especially the sole right to exclude others from making, using, or selling your patent. You will be able to enjoy the exclusive commercial benefit of your own invention once you have been granted a patent.
You can apply for trademarks, patents or registered designs through the UK intellectual property office.
Copyright – You would be happy to know that if you have an idea, the expression of that idea could possibly have automatic protection through copyright, The idea, however, has to be in a tangible form and fit in the criteria of copyright law. Copyright protects, music, writings, drawings, films, sculptures etc.
One great thing about copyright, is that there is no registration process, as the protection is automatic and most of all FREE! You should, however, still try to make people aware of your copyright by adding a copyright notice to your work.
Hopefully, the information provided in this article will help you on your journey to becoming the next Jamal Edwards or Louise Broni-Mensah. Remember to identify the different ways to protect your businesses intellectual property, such as registering your company name as a trademark and the importance of NDA’s. For more detailed understanding be sure to consult an IP lawyer.