How to protect your business idea

Starting a business begins with a great idea so it’s natural to worry about someone stealing it. But can an idea be protected?

Starting a business begins with a great idea so it’s natural to worry about someone stealing it. But can an idea be protected?

Not entirely. However, you can take measures to limit your risk exposure and help you sleep better at night.

Act on your idea

Perhaps the best way to protect your idea is to act on it. Being first to market will give your business a clear competitive advantage over imitators because you’ll:

  • Establish a customer base.
  • Generate some revenue.
  • Gain traction for your brand.

There are billions of people in the world generating billions of great ideas. The ones who succeed in business take steps to turn an idea into reality – they go for it.

Doers understand that an idea by itself doesn’t guarantee success – you’ve got to:

  • Make a plan.
  • Secure financing.
  • Develop the product.
  • Sell it.
  • Ship it.

Dealing with potential copycats

Eventually you’ll have to tell someone about your idea. You’ll have to share it with investors, financers, advisors, prospective employees, commercial landlords, vendors and others. You’ll naturally worry about copycats.

Use a Non-Disclosure Agreement

If you’re worried about disclosing your idea to people you don’t know, consider asking them to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). It’s a common legal instrument that basically gives you legal recourse on an individual or organization that shares the confidential information you’ve presented to them without your permission.

Search online for NDA templates or ask your lawyer to prepare one for you.

Bear in mind that the likelihood of someone stealing your idea is slim. Professionals (such as lawyers, bankers, and accountants) are in the business of dealing with entrepreneurs and must adhere to a professional code of conduct.

Entrepreneurs who may like your idea are probably too wrapped up in their own ideas to care too much about copying yours.


You can protect your new business identity using a trademark. A trademark is defined as a:

  • Word.
  • Phrase.
  • Design.
  • Combination of these elements used to identify and distinguish your goods or services in the marketplace.

A trademark can include your business name, logo, or the branding of a particular product or service.

A trademark can help create value for your business or brand – whether it’s a farm, legal firm, or other service.

Using patents

If you’ve invented a product or process that is truly unique (and you can prove it) you might consider a patent.

A patent essentially registers your product or process with government agencies. That registration may help you to defend your patent should anyone attempt to duplicate it. Speak with a lawyer or a patent agent to help you understand the advantages and disadvantages to the patent option.

A patent may impede competitors for a while. However, it can be an expensive and time-consuming process that ends up giving your invention very little marketplace protection. For example, a patent infringement by a business operating in another country may be difficult and expensive to pursue.

Next steps