Are you full of great ideas but don’t know how to turn them into sales? Or are you afraid your golden ideas will be stolen by copycats? Here are five tips for protecting your intellectual property from the session “It’s Your Thing! How to Protect and Profit From Your Idea” at the 2016 Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit.
Make sure your idea stays yours. “The first thing I do is have my clients sign a non-disclosure agreement,” says Lisa Ascolese, founder of Inventing A-Z. “You’re making that person promise that they’re not going to tell anyone about your product.” Michelle Fisher, Founder and CEO of Blaze Mobile, also suggests “progressive disclosure”—limiting what you share up front, whether you’re talking to investors or interviewing potential employees.
Keep up with the law. “It’s not sufficient just to innovate, you really have to protect your ideas via a trademark or a patent,” Fisher says. With recent changes to the law that recognize the first to file, not the first to invent, “it’s even more important not to share your idea with someone until you’ve patented it.”
Know the types of protection. There are three different types of patents. There is also a trademark, which can be a word, phrase, symbol, or design. A service mark is similar but for services. “Trademarks help to distinguish your product, in terms of branding,” says Justin G. Tanner, associate director of the Minority Business Development Agency’s Office of Legislation, Education and Intergovernmental Affairs.
Take advantage of the resources: “There are programs and dollars out there,” says Tanner, pointing specifically to the Pro Se Assistance Program of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which helps you file patent applications without an attorney, and the Small Business Innovation Research program, which incentivizes small businesses to engage in research and development. Fisher also recommends USPTO’s Patent Pro Bono Program.
Get it to market. “Don’t be an over-inventor,” Ascolese says, meaning don’t waste time putting bells and whistles on a good base idea. Take it to market quickly, or someone else will. Fisher also has a term for the tendency to delay products as you add to the features: “feature creep.”