My small business clients often ask me about patenting various things. However, the patent process is a long and expensive process for which many small businesses just do not have the funding. But don't give up on protecting your ideas. This article from Entrepreneur Magazine explains how there are other things that can be done to protect the business' idea or invention.
How to Protect Your Business Idea Without a Patent
It's natural to fear that your idea might be stolen. But you can't turn your vision into reality without the help of others. Sooner or later, you're going to want to ask an industry expert to evaluate your product or service. You're going to need to collaborate with a manufacturer or distributor. But patents cost thousands of dollars and take years to be issued. You can't afford to wait that long to start bringing your product to market.
Thankfully, there are creative ways to actively protect your idea without applying for a patent. Here are four affordable strategies that will protect your business idea from being stolen:
Do your research. Before you begin working with anyone new, be it an individual or organization, do some research online. Do they have a good track record? Can you find any complaints about their business practices? Try to get a sense of what they're all about. If you find cause for concern, consider asking about it. As we all know, not everything you find online is true. But if their business practices seem sketchy before you've even begun to work with them, that's not a good sign.
Use these three legal tools -- with the help and oversight of an attorney:
Non-disclosure agreement (NDA): Have anyone you work with sign a non-disclosure agreement that commits them to confidentiality. An NDA can be a mutual agreement between two parties not to share information with third parties, or it can go one-way (since you're sharing information about your idea with them). If the agreement doesn't have an expiration date, that's powerful.
Non-compete agreement: If you hire someone to help you, have him or her sign a non-compete agreement. A non-compete agreement prevents an individual or entity from starting a business that would compete or threaten yours within an established radius.
Work-for-hire agreement: If you hire someone to help fine-tune your product, make sure to establish that you own any and all improvements made to the idea. Anything they come up with, you own. You will still need to list the person who came up with improvements as a co-inventor in your patent, but they will have no rights to your invention.
Read the rest of the article on Entrepreneur.com.