There was a recent discussion on Copyblogger, about the importance of spreading the word when you have an idea. The point of the article basically was that instead of hoarding your great ideas in a file on your computer, you should share them with anyone who will listen to spread the word. An argument arose when I piped in that BEFORE you let anyone in on your idea (assuming it is in actuality, a great one) you should protect it with a patent application, a trademark, a copyright, or at least a nondisclosure agreement. It quickly became clear to me that that the distrust of lawyers is so strong in some people that they would rather risk making their ideas vulnerable to thieves out in the marketplace than trust a lawyer to protect them. I am going to put myself out on a limb here and jump on the lawyers bandwagon for a change and suggest that exposing your ideas without any protection is a dangerous road to travel. I know, I’ve been there.
I have a great deal of gratitude to and respect for several lawyers that I have had the pleasure to work with. In my previous business venture, which involved products with unique patentable features, trademarkable names and slogans, and numerous negotiations and contracts, our company would have been left extremely vulnerable had we had not protected the IP assets that we created. On more than one occasion, the legal protection that we had the wherewithal to put in place thwarted would-be thieves.
Intellectual property is a key asset that adds tremendous value to a company’s worth. Protecting it, therefore can be essential to a company’s success or failure. Here’s why:
Try getting backers to invest in your company if you don’t hold or own trademarks or patents on the products that you produce or on your business model. A business that holds intellectual property is a much more enticing investment proposition than a business that doesn’t hold any IP.
Try attempting to confront another company that is knocking off your idea without any IP ownership. There is nothing worse than having a unique idea, watching it being ripped off, and having no legal recourse to prevent or remedy it, because you neglected to protect it.
Try selling something that is not unique in the marketplace.The lack of proper IP protection also has the potential to devalue your brand in the consumer’s eye. Having a patentable idea which turns into a unique product is a lot easier to sell in the marketplace than something that offers no innovation. Holding a patent or trademark on something instantly adds value because it says that your product, business method, name, idea, or slogan was unique enough to achieve protection. Innovation sells.
Try pitching your idea to an existing business to invite collaboration or licensing. Most reputable businesses don’t want to hear your ideas unless they are protected for fear that they might already have something in their pipeline that is similar. Other not-so-reputable businesses are on the lookout for eager suckers who will unwittingly hand over their ideas. Invent it, protect it, then go talk to people. (A great movie on this subject is Flash of Genius)
I am a true believer and practitioner of the power of word of mouth marketing, creative collaboration and brainstorming, but I always proceed with caution before letting the cat out of the bag. I fear potential thievery in marketplace (and spiders) much more than I fear lawyers.