Another Entrepreneurship Project of the  Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University

Protecting Your Business Idea Without a Patent

Fear is natural when you have a new idea that has yet to be patented. While you don’t want someone else taking your idea, to move forward you have to interact with hundreds of people to discuss your product/idea and get feedback. And at some point, you will need to collaborate with a manufacturer or distributor.
The patent process is not only time consuming but is also costly. Sometimes, it’s not feasible to wait until you have a patent to get your product to market. As an alternative, the following are some affordable strategies to protect your idea from being stolen—without going through the time consuming and expensive process of filing for a patent.

Research who you are working with
Look at the track record of the companies you are working with. Get a feeling of what they do or if they have any complaints about their business practices. Be smart and assess them before you divulge your ideas and secrets to such a company.

Use the legal tools
Non-disclosure agreement (NDA): Have people you work with sign a NDA that commits them to confidentiality. It is a mutual agreement between the two parties to not share information with third parties. If the agreement does not have an expiry, it can be very powerful.

Non-compete agreement: If you hire someone, make sure you get a non-compete agreement signed. It prevents people from competing with you on the same business within an established radius.

Work-for-hire agreement: If you hire someone to help you fine tune your product, make sure you own any or all improvements made to the idea. You own ideas of a person that helps you with your product, as they are working for you. In terms of the fine print, you will need to list this type of person as co-inventor in a patent, but they do not have any rights to your original invention.

US patent and trademark office
Patents are not the only way to protect your idea. You can start with filing a provisional patent application. It costs roughly $100 and you can do it yourself. There are templates such as Invent + Patent System or Patent Wizard to help you as well. The USPTO also has call centers to answer your questions. The provisional patent application protects your idea for up to one year and allows you to label your idea as “patent pending”.

You may also want to consider applying for trademark, which can be done easily online. This is helpful to establish ownership of a brand. Brand-name recognition has become very important in today’s world of social media and internet advertising.

Build relationships with competitors
When thinking about protecting your idea/brand, you may feel that reaching out to the competition would be difficult or detrimental. However, if you can establish a mutually beneficial relationship with a competitor, it is a great way to protect yourself. If you are successful in showcasing how your new product could help their existing business, you are avoiding a potential threat.

Unfortunately, nothing in the business world is foolproof, but these tips help to keep your idea protected. You may also want to consult a lawyer to guarantee accuracy and protection.

How do you protect your business ideas? Have you used any of the above techniques? If so, please share what worked best for you.

For the full article and additional ways to protect your ideas, please visit

Thanks for reading, and until next time… stay WISE!


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *