You’ve come up with an incredible idea for a new product, widget or service, but turning it to reality can be fraught with challenges.
You know you need to share your business vision to help move it forward, but your fear – and it’s a real fear – is that someone may steal or copy it before you get it to market.
The good news is that you can take steps to protect your business idea.
INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY IS THE KEY
Taking ownership of your business idea is largely based around the concept of intellelectual property.
Intellectual property (IP) represents creations of the mind or intellect that can be legally owned. Your business is likely to have a wealth of IP, and IP laws are there to protect them.
In most cases you must formally register your IP with IP Australia, the federal government agency responsible for granting rights in patents, trade marks and designs.
By registering your IP, you are putting a degree of formal protection around your idea, but there are still some other steps you should take to keep it safe.
Top tips to help protect your IP
Do your research
Are you sure your business idea is unique? It’s a good idea to search patent, trade mark and design databases to ensure your ideas are new – and don’t infringe on the rights of others.
For trade marks, use the Australian trade mark search. For patents, use the Australian patent search. For designs, use the Australian designs search.
Know your IP
What are the things that differentiate your business from your competitors? Identify each one of these important intangible assets, as you can then set about protecting them.
It’s tempting to share your idea with others, but be wary until it’s protected. If you need to talk to someone about your idea, you may need to use a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA), or confidentiality agreement. NDAs legally oblige the ‘disclosee’ to keep the IP provided by the ‘discloser’ a secret for a specified period of time. However, knowing when best to use one is key. An IP professional can advise on timing as well as preparation.
Understand your IP options
There are different types of IP – each with their own unique advantages. For example, patents protect inventions, registered designs protect visual appearance, while registered trade mark protect brand names and logos. Understanding the different types will ensure you put in place the appropriate protections.
Build a commercialisation case
If you need financial backing to give your idea wings, build a concept or model to educate and inspire potential business partners.
A word of caution, however: don’t chase money before lodging an application for patent protection.
Commercial use or even an exhibition of the invention before you file a patent application may prevent you from receiving a patent.
What works best?
There are different ways to make money from IP. You can sell it, license it or make products yourself. Do your homework and work out the best option for your particular needs.
Sometimes, it’s prudent to ‘go solo’ and not formally register your IP. An example is a business product or idea for a rapidly evolving industry – where IP would have a short lifespan.
There are still ways to protect your business without registering your IP.
The ‘First to Market’ approach is a simple commercialisation strategy, where you enter and capture a new, lucrative market before your competitors have a chance to play ‘catch up.’
A second common option is to protect your business idea through Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs), or confidentiality agreements.
GET BUSINESS SAVVY
To give your business idea the best shot, it’s important you understand your commercialisation pathway and IP protection options. Seek professional advice, especially before entering into a legally binding contractual agreement with others.