Anyone who has had an idea has worried someone is going to take it. In my opinion, this fear is overblown. I get it. Fear is a powerful motivator. It unfortunately prevents many of us from ever taking action. I don't think companies steal ideas, though. I think they sometimes work around them.
Why is this distinction important? I meet inventors who act is if there isn't anything they can do. I disagree. There are bad actors out there. And if your product is successful enough, a competitor will try to produce something similar. That's reality -- that's how this game is played. The most powerful companies in the world are unable to stop copycats from cropping up. If there's money to be made, someone's going to try. It's very disheartening, to be sure. I've never felt more violated than when it happened to me. But this is what I've learned. It doesn't happen as often as you think. And there is something you can do: Write stronger intellectual property.
It's simple. I think the best way of preventing a company from attempting to work around you is to outthink them. Beat them to the punch! Get out ahead of the possibility. Doing so isn't as hard as you might think. After all, you're the expert. You're the inventor. You need to start thinking and actively defensively. You need to develop a thorough portfolio of intellectual property -- and I mean thorough. Here's how.
First, brainstorm variations of your idea. If someone wanted to work around you, how could they? To file intellectual property that actually has value, you need to spend a significant amount of time pondering this question. For example, have you thought about how your idea will be manufactured? What about alternative methods? You need to know. Many inventors fail to include any reference to manufacturing in their applications. What about variations in material? What about all of the scenarios and ways the idea could be applied and used? You need to include these. What I am really saying? You should try to 'steal' the idea from yourself.
Here's another tip. When you're writing your provisional patent application, make sure to include lots of drawings. You might miss something in the description, but drawings are worth a thousand words. IPWatchdog.com founder Gene Quinn recently confirmed this strategy in an interview.
Now, let me be clear. I spend a lot of time writing about simple ideas. Simple ideas can be brought to market without much intellectual property at all. But let's say you do have an idea you really want to invest in the protection of -- a big idea. When you file thorough intellectual property, you send a clear message: You're invested in this idea. You've built a veritable wall of protection around it. So yes, when it comes to big ideas, filing multiple patents is a good strategy.
So, what else can you do to stimulate your ingenuity as you try to steal your invention from yourself? For one, visit manufacturing facilities. One of the best ways of protecting an idea is the ability to manufacture it faster and more cheaply than anyone else. Read the latest information about the technology in your sector. What are people saying? Where is in the industry headed? What's current? Think and act with the future in mind, not just the present. It doesn't hurt to check up on your competitors, either. What are they filing? Read their applications.
Really, you need to stay one step ahead. If you do, you'll make it much harder for anyone to work around you.