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If you have developed a great concept for a business, you may be concerned about others copying your idea, especially before you have had the opportunity to launch your new business. Unfortunately, it is not possible to patent an idea alone, and it is difficult to prevent others from copying your idea or running the same type of business as you. While it may not be possible to patent your new idea, this article will explore some of the other ways to protect your idea from widespread disclosure before you make it public. 

What Is a Patent?

Patents are a form of intellectual property (IP) protection that allows inventors to have exclusive rights to commercialise their invention. A patent gives the owner a legal right to stop other people from: 

  • making;
  • using; or 
  • selling something that they have invented.

A patent lasts for up to 20 years. Patents are available for tangible subject matters, like:

  • inventions;
  • processes; and
  • some forms of code.

It is not business models or concepts for apps and, unfortunately, ideas alone are not patentable no matter how inventive they may be.

Take rideshare businesses as an example. While many remember Uber as the first company to implement this innovative business model, nowadays they are certainly not the only ones operating in the market. Uber was not able to obtain a patent for the business model or idea of ridesharing, which has allowed for healthy competition.

Patents do also have their disadvantages. One downside is that in order to obtain a patent, a complete description of the invention must be made public. Once the patent expires after 20 years, the entire world can access and copy the invention.

Another disadvantage is that patents are generally only enforceable in the countries where you register them. A New Zealand patent gives you rights to prevent others from copying your invention in New Zealand only. Often, the costs associated with worldwide patent protection can be prohibitive for founders. This is yet another reason why many founders choose not to register a patent for their new invention.

How Can I Protect My Idea Without a Patent?

Contractual Confidentiality Protection

Once you go public with your business model, there is not much you can do about others copying your idea. However, if your idea is not leaked until launch, you will have a great advantage over competitors. While they may try to copy your idea, if you streamline your internal processes, train your employees, and develop your technology, your competitors will be several steps behind you if they try to start a similar business. 

In the pre-launch stage of your business, you should ensure that every person or company you deal with is subject to strict confidentiality requirements. When you are in initial discussions with potential employees, app developers, or investors – you should have each person you disclose any sensitive business information to sign an NDA (non disclosure agreement).

Once any of these individuals or companies are engaged by you under a more formal contract, you should ensure that the formal contract also has a strong confidentiality clause.

Remember – NDAs are best used for initial discussions with: 

  • potential employees;
  • service providers; and
  • investors.

They only cover the exchange of information. Once you have decided to engage the party, a more formal contract should be signed that will cover all aspects of the relationship. This includes aspects such as:

  • payment;
  • services to be provided;
  • non-compete clauses; and
  • confidentiality clauses.

Protecting Other Forms of Intellectual Property

Although you may not be able to patent your business idea, you can protect your brand name and logo with a trade mark. A trade mark provides you with the exclusive right to use a particular word or symbol in relation to the goods or services that the mark covers. 

For example, while Uber was not able to prevent other businesses from developing competing ride sharing platforms, they did make sure to trade mark the brand name ‘Uber’. This meant that Uber were able to ensure that no-one else was able to cash in on the reputation that their brand had established by being the first to market.

Trade mark applications have a minimum six month processing time in New Zealand, so it is important to register your trade mark as an early step in your business. Trade marks are frequently rejected, so it is important to have your trade mark registered before you invest in branding and marketing costs. 

For example, if there is another already registered brand name or logo that is similar to your proposed trade mark, your application will be rejected.

Once registered, a trade mark lasts for 10 years in New Zealand and can be renewed on an ongoing basis. Trade mark protection only extends to the countries in which you register your brand. If you need protection for your brand outside of New Zealand, you will need to register in other countries separately. 

Key Takeaways

While patents are generally unavailable for ideas and business models because they lack a tangible form, there are other ways that you can protect your idea before you launch. Making sure that you protect your brand name with a trade mark is an important step in warding off copycats, and if you ensure that everyone you disclose your new idea to is bound by confidentiality obligations in contracts, then you can feel more secure that your idea will not leak before launch. LegalVision’s contract and intellectual property lawyers can help you to register a trade mark or develop contracts for your business. Leave a message in the box below or call 0800 005 570 to speak to a member of the specialist LegalVision team.

What is a patent?

Patents are a form of intellectual property (IP) protection that allows inventors to have exclusive rights to commercialise their invention.

What can I patent?

Patents are available for tangible subject matters, like inventions processes and some forms of code.

How long does a patent last?

A patent will last for 20 years.

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