Professional Development

What to do when someone steals your business idea

Written by Guest Contributor

Nothing feels worse than having something stolen from you. That feeling is exacerbated when it was an incredible idea that was stolen, and you then have to watch from the sidelines as the offending party reaps the rewards from your innovative design. Unfortunately, people have their creative ideas stolen from them all the time and often feel like they have little recourse. However, if you do your homework, you might just come out on top if your idea is stolen from you.

Explore your options

Whether you’re a fashion designer, engineer, or even simply work in an office and have an idea of how to improve day-to-day operations, you need to be aware that people are capable of stealing your creative ideas. Everyone wants to become a success in their chosen field, and having ideas stolen from you puts a serious damper on your advancement. If you do have your ideas stolen by a boss, colleague, or from an outside business, there are some options available to you as recourse.

If you give a company an idea in writing only to have that idea rejected, that is just an unfortunate situation. However, if you then later see that same company has released your idea with minor tweaks but the same name, then you might have a case against them. The important bit is that you presented this idea in writing; simple ideas are not protectable, but a depiction of those ideas being documented may be protected under copyright law.

Taking on a huge company in court can be a stressful process. Not only will you have to be prepared for the legal fees associated with fighting a potentially drawn-out court battle, but it can be hard to know what type of lawyer you need. Luckily, there are plenty of services available that can help you to find the right lawyer for the job, increasing your chances of coming away with a victory against a corporate titan.

Get your documents in order

When someone steals your idea, it’s important to first and foremost remain calm and assess your best options going forward. If a coworker overheard you discussing a particularly good idea and then went over your head to present it to your boss without giving you credit, it won’t do much good to stomp your feet and declare that it was yours first. The best thing you can do when you have a plan is to immediately document it so that you have something concrete to point to if the idea does happen to get stolen.

If you’re an entrepreneur and are working with other individuals towards developing a startup and are worried that they may steal your ideas, involve a lawyer early on in the process. Lawyers can look over your project or proposal to see which aspects of it can be copyrighted, patented, or trademarked. Though it may seem like a sign of distrust, explaining that you just want to make sure everything is on the level should quell any fears in your coworkers. Additionally, if the people you’re working with happen to come up with a great idea, they will also have access to a lawyer who can make sure their work is protected as well.

While having the appropriate documentation is necessary to protect your creativity from being stolen out from under you, it can be challenging to manage huge swathes of documents. Though you can certainly try to file all the paperwork yourself, keeping track of all your different ideas and when you had them can be a real pain. Luckily, there are secure business documentation storage systems available that will take some of the pressure off you, knowing that you won’t misplace anything or have any issues finding documents.

If you’re choosing to store documents digitally as well, you need to ensure that your cybersecurity is top notch. There are several critical mistakes that can cause data loss and lead to stolen information. So making sure that you take every precaution to keep your ideas digitally safe is of utmost importance.

Protect yourself in the future

If in the past you’ve had ideas stolen from you and were unable to take any action, there are some simple ways you can protect your ideas from theft in the future. Reveal only what is necessary when discussing your ideas, so that if they are stolen, the entire concept isn’t compromised. Additionally, using non-disclosure agreements with partners and employees is a fantastic way to ensure that your plans are kept under wraps and in your possession.

Highly successful people tend to follow their instincts when it comes to sharing their ideas, and if something seems off, then it is best to keep your idea to yourself. Again, documentation is so absolutely necessary when it comes to protecting your ideas that you should try to make a habit of documenting everything of significance in your life. Keeping a journal is an easy way to get you into the groove of documentation, and eventually it will become second nature to make sure your ideas are written down on hard copy.

Finally, protecting your creativity means seriously looking into who you are working with or for. While trust is an essential part of any business partnership, it is also important to do your due diligence when it comes to choosing a company to work with. Rely heavily on referrals to get some insight into who you should work with, as generally people who have a habit of stealing ideas tend to lack positive referrals. Make sure that your contract is absolutely airtight, leaving little wiggle room for idea thieves.

Though idea theft is far more common than anyone would like, these are some of the ways you can protect yourself. Document everything from start to finish, make sure you have a good lawyer on your side to help navigate the process of patent law, and ensure that you’re working with honest, reliable people. Do this, and you’ll be the one reaping the rewards from your innovative ideas.

About the Author:
Jori Hamilton is a writer from the Pacific Northwest who has a particular interest in social justice, politics, education, healthcare, technology, and more. You can follow her on Twitter @ HamiltonJori.

About the author

Guest Contributor