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18 Tips to Protect your Ideas

protectDisclaimer: I am not an attorney and this is not legal advice.

Happy New Year! Today I am going to go over 18 ways to protect your product ideas. It’s a lot of information that I think will help you both protect and license your idea successfully. I’m going to share the traditional methods of course, with the USPTO as your main resource, but I’m also going to give you advice on some really smart business strategies for how to protect those ideas. From big ideas to small ideas, I don’t care what you have, I’m going give you everything you need to protect those great ideas. These 18 tips will give you a better chance of being paid for your creativity.

First off, I want to tell you that there are no absolutes here. What I’m about to tell you is the best advice I can give you. But at the end of the day, nobody owns anything; it’s all about perceived ownership. It’s hard to protect all your ideas. If Apple cannot protect their intellectual property, it’s pretty hard to believe that we can protect our own. However, I’m still not worried about companies taking ideas. I don’t think companies go out there and deliberately try to take your idea. Social media makes this bad for business. Moreover, it would stifle future submissions to that company.  I licensed the Michael Jordan Wall Ball for 10 years and I had no ownership whatsoever. They didn’t steal my idea because they knew I and others would stop submitting ideas, and new ideas are the backbone of business!

Here are the 18 tips:

  1. License to a large company. The number one way to protect your idea is to license it to a company that’s big! License it to a company that has great distribution, great shelf space, and great relationships. Find the monster! It’s as simple as that.
  2. Understand how your product can be made. This is going to be hard for a lot of people. But if you can, try to understand the manufacturing required to produce your product. ITry to figure out how you can design it and make it the most efficiently, the cheapest, and with the highest profit margin. It’s a great way of protecting that idea.
  3. Choose the right company to work with. Seek out a company that has worked with product developers before. Build a relationship with them. They will love you to death. Avoid the wrong company by searching their name in Google along with complaints and lawsuits, and see what comes up. Kick the tires on these guys! But really try and find companies that embrace you. There’s thousands of them out there. Avoid the companies that don’t! Stay away from them! For our students we created a list of companies looking for ideas ..
  4. Understand the tools at the USPTO. The USPTO has many tools on their site. It’s very affordable to write your own provisional patent applications, among other things. You don’t have to pay an attorney to do it, although it would be smart to have him or her review it if you don’t feel comfortable. In most situations, you can file it anywhere in the world for $65. I’ve written a great book on “How to Sell your Ideas With our Without a Patent” and it talks a lot about PPA’s. It’ll tell you everything you’ll need to be able to do it! We’ve also created, along with Gene Quinn, a program called SmartIP which will help you write your own PPA.
  5. Keep a paper trail. Whoever you are talking to, keep a paper trail. Follow up every conversation with what was spoken and what the next steps are. It’s easy to do. This helped me when I was in federal court. I took a company to court (Lego) and a paper trail helped me document what had transpired as well as the conversations we had.
  6. Learn about Trademarks. This is another tool at the USPTO beside PPA’s. I don’t typically trademark the names of products, but if you’ve got a spectacular name, consider trademarking it as it is very affordable and not hard to do. Learn as much as you can at the USPTO.gov site.
  7. Get a URL. Great URL’s can have value. It’s inexpensive to obtain althoughmost of them are taken these days. But if you can find something that’s clever, has value, and really communicates your idea well, your URL adds protection to your idea.
  8. Learn about Copyrights. I love copyrights. You can copyright an image or even multiple images. If you’ve got some great designs you can put a catalogue of them together and file it for $45 to obtain wonderful protection. I did this with my guitar picks, as I had all these great designs. Read as much as you can at the USPTO about copyrights.
  9. Be reasonable! When you are dealing with a company, be reasonable. Don’t ask for a lot of money up front. If you do need some money up front, ask them to pay for your patents: maybe patents you have already paid for, or maybe patents in the future. But make sure to negotiate that. It’s easy to do and you always control the idea.
  10. Always have minimum guarantees. Having a minimum guarantee means you have a performance clause. If you sign a licensing agreement with a company, there has to be some type of performance so if they don’t perform you get your intellectual property or product idea back. Don’t negotiate minimum guarantees at the very beginning, negotiate that later or with another person to help you.
  11. Watch out for startups! Startups can be rocky. If you license your ideas to a startup, just be careful because two things could happen. They might make it, or they might fail. Make sure you have language in your agreement that says if they file for bankruptcy, you get your intellectual property or product idea back. Get an attorney to help you with the language needed in your agreement.
  12. Never assign your patent to a company. If you happen to sign your patent to a company, make sure they assign it back to you and put those patents/IP in a third-party escrow account. If they breach, or they make some mistake, you can get your IP back. Of course, have that language in the agreement before they file for bankruptcy so you get it back. It’s not an absolute, but it will help if it ever goes to court.
  13. Try to license your idea to more than one company. If you can carve out and license it to more than one company, it’s not a bad idea. It’s not easy to do, but you can. Always ask companies what they need to be successful, as companies don’t sell everywhere typically. Find out where they are not strong and carve it out so you can license it to another company. It’s always good to have two eggs in your basket.
  14. File for Design Patents. Everybody says design patents don’t have any protections…yet in certain situations they do. If your idea has to look a certain way, a design patent can be very affordable and have value. Check it out at the USPTO and read as much as you can about design patents.
  15. Non-Disclosure Agreements. NDA’s can be very important (especially if you only have trade secrets) if you have language that the company cannot re-engineer your idea. Have a patent attorney help you with that language as it’ll be great tool to protect your creativity.
  16. Trade Secrets. Don’t tell anybody about your idea! It’s one of the best ways to protect your idea. If you have a process, or know how to make something a certain way, don’t share it! Don’t file a patent on it! Just keep it to yourself.
  17. Avoid working with overseas companies. If you are new to this, avoid working with overseas companies. Stay within the United States as it is easier to manage, build relationships, and communicate. Most likely the people you deal with here will have manufacturing facilities all over.
  18. Avoid companies that do not respect intellectual property. Find those industries that do not value intellectual property. You can find this on Google.

Realize this guys: you never own anything. It’s always about perceived ownership. Every one of these 18 tips are really just one brick in the wall; you don’t need them all, but these are some of the things to be aware of. Don’t be fearful or concerned and educate yourself with the USPTO website. Know that you can do this yourself!

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Comments 2

Aaron McGill on Wednesday, 03 January 2018 09:32

Thanks Stephen,
Great as always! Can't wait to get my copy of "How to Sell your idea with or Without a Patent".

Warm Greetings from Bern- Switzerland

Thanks Stephen, Great as always! Can't wait to get my copy of "How to Sell your idea with or Without a Patent". Warm Greetings from Bern- Switzerland
Andrew Krauss on Monday, 08 January 2018 13:19

A.McGill......
We are known for "One Simple Idea" book, but Stephen put a lot into "How to Sell your idea with or Without a Patent".

It really is a great more advanced book, I highly recommend it. Let us know what you think after you give it a read.

Andrew Krauss : inventRight Co-Founder: 650-793-1477

A.McGill...... We are known for [url=http://www.inventright.com/help/books]"One Simple Idea"[/url] book, but Stephen put a lot into [url=http://www.inventright.com/help/books]"How to Sell your idea with or Without a Patent"[/url]. It really is a great more advanced book, I highly recommend it. Let us know what you think after you give it a read. Andrew Krauss : inventRight Co-Founder: 650-793-1477
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Friday, 22 February 2019

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