5 ways to stop your ideas being stolen

Story highlights

  • Ideas are money, and are stolen just as frequently
  • But you can start protecting yours from day one, before receiving a patent or registration
  • Make sure your business conversations don't make you vulnerable
  • How to ensure you can trust your partners

(CNN)It is often said that time is money, but for entrepreneurs and innovators it is more often a brainwave that adds up to fortune -- just ask the whizz kids behind Uber, Zynga, and dozens of other start-up smash hits.

From William Shakespeare to Facebook, no idea is too great to be appropriated by light-fingered opportunists. To make sure your next million dollar idea isn't stolen or copied, we enlisted the help of specialists in "idea security" to find out how you can avoid becoming a hard luck story.
Protection begins from day one
Protect yourself in advance of receiving a patent for your intellectual property, and one effective solution can be a provisional patent application (PPA). "A strong PPA will include potential workaround variations of the idea, manufacturing techniques that will be used to produce the idea, technical drawings, and a description of how the idea will be used," says Stephen Key, a specialist in licensing and entrepreneurship. "Filing multiple PPAs helps establish perceived ownership."
Make your ownership public immediately
Rather than trying to avoid attention, flag ideas as your own even at an early stage. "Use the right symbols in your media and marketing material alerts," recommends David Bloom, head of Safeguard iP, a specialist Intellectual Property (IP) insurance broker. Patent and design numbers can be added later, but always keep on top of renewals, advises Bloom. "To ensure the continued protection of designs, trademarks and patents, don't forget to pay renewal fees. Registered rights will expire if businesses fail to pay on time," he said.
Document everything
There can be uncertain moments when introducing your idea to a potential partner or buyer. If you give too much away, the new party could make a mint and shut you out of the process, so it's important to be able to prove what happened when. "Follow up every conversation you have about your idea over email," says Key. "Years ago, I sued one of the largest toy companies in the world for patent infringement in federal court. My paper trail helped solidify my story."
Create an IP culture
The saying "loose lips sink ships" is absolutely true when it comes to keeping your ideas within your guard. Your operation must be tight as a drum to avoid leaving you vulnerable. "Create a business-wide IP awareness policy, to ensure that all employees understand the importance of IP and the issues surrounding it," says Bloom. "Whether you dedicate one person within the business to oversee the registration, protection and maximization of IP, or you outsource this role to an IP professional, the money you spend will be a sound investment in the future growth of your business."
Vet your partners
It may seem obvious, but rather than jump into bed with the first keen investor, check out their record in order to be confident their intentions are honorable."Have any lawsuits or complaints been filed against the company or individual in question? If so, you might want to think twice about working with them," said Key. "That's what the Internet was invented for."