Running a Business

How to protect your business ideas

Ashley Gurr

Success in business is all about staying ahead of the curve. Whether it’s a new way of doing things, a groundbreaking new product invention or a fresh new business name or concept, you’ll usually have a competitive advantage if you are the first to the market with your idea or solution.

The trick is to ensure your newly generated ideas are kept under wraps and protected so your first-mover advantage isn’t lost to copycat competitors before gaining traction. In this article, we’ll discuss how to protect your business ideas, both in a practical and legal sense.

Why is protecting your business ideas important?

The modern business world can be brutal at times, and in the cut and thrust of 21st century commerce, there is little room for too much trust or complacency.

If you’ve got a new idea that is capable of commercial exploitation, it’s of paramount importance to keep the idea secret and secure any necessary legal protections at the earliest opportunity.

How to maintain confidentiality to protect your ideas?

One of the first practical considerations is to ensure you work on a ‘need to know’ basis internally within your own organisation. When your idea is embryonic, you must keep it within a close circle of key people actively involved in its development. As such, it’s wise to place access restrictions on staff outside of that inner group.

You should ensure that employees involved in your business ideas and inventions have suitable clauses inserted into their employment contracts to protect your business.

These clauses should require them to keep all the ideas strictly confidential, to not commercially exploit them for their own benefit, and to assign over to the business all the intellectual property rights in such ideas as are generated in the course of their work to the fullest extent possible, waiving any personal rights arising.

Next, when dealing with other stakeholders involved in creating and developing the ideas, such as suppliers, manufacturers and developers, you must issue Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) to prevent your ideas from being stolen or disclosed to third parties for their benefit.

Clearly, controlling the company messaging as far as possible is vital to prevent premature leaks into the public domain. This may involve using comprehensive social media policies within your workforce to prevent inadvertent disclosure by eager staff members.

What legal protections are available?

The key is to be aware of your Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) and do all you reasonably can to protect them. As you may be aware, IPR covers many different areas, but you must know what rights are relevant to your business idea and what steps to take to protect them.

You need to know which rights arise automatically under the law and which rights require proactive steps for protection. For example, copyright arises automatically under the law, whereas you will need to apply for a trademark to be protected.

Naturally, not all business ideas are capable of IPR protection. If your idea doesn’t involve anything new or novel, then there is little you can protect other than your business name, logo, etc.

However, it’s wise to take specialist legal advice from an intellectual property lawyer at the earliest possible stage as more protection may be available than you assume. Your lawyers will also be able to run any searches against existing registrations as may be necessary.

Wrapping up

Protecting your business ideas is crucial for the success of your thriving and innovative company. Seeking legal advice and working with solicitors can provide peace of mind, ensuring that everything is handled correctly and increasing your chances of business success.

If you're concerned about business confidentiality and intellectual property protection, LawBite's solicitors are here to support your business. As a Clever Accounts customer, you can now access a LawBite Foundations account, which includes a £10 per hour discount on their legal advice rates and useful legal templates to get your business up and running. Click here to find out more and sign up to LawBite.

About the author

Ashley Gurr is an expert business lawyer at LawBite. Ashley has over 15 years of experience in private practice helping SMEs and in-house for an international consultancy group advising on commercial contracts and a multi-national utility giant in a contract strategy role.

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