How do you stop competitors from copying your great business idea?

People who are prone to starting businesses have no lack of ideas. Protect your ideas if and when you need to, by following the steps many who’ve come before you have followed :

  1. Search to see if it’s already protected.
  2. Decide if you really want to protect it.
  3. Decide what kind of protection you need.
  4. Ask a specialized attorney.
  5. File the paper work.
  6. Pitch the idea to investors.

Many people fear telling people about their idea, because they don’t want anyone stealing it. Most of the time, it is an unfound fear, because ideas are notoriously hard to bring to reality.  You might say, the idea is only a small percentage of the entrepreneurs battle.

Step 1: Search to see if it’s already protected.

The first step, and often the most heart breaking is searching to see if the idea already exists or has been thought of and protected already.  Even if you find something similar though, all hope is not lost.  You may be able to patent a part of the product, a utility within the product, or come up with ideas for how to change it to make it viable despite it already existing.  Building a better mouse trap is a good business, if you do it right.

Step 2: Decide if you really want to protect it.

Just because it doesn’t exist doesn’t mean it is still worth protecting.  Protection rarely comes cheap, and a large upfront investment might not be in the cards for everyone.  Also, some times the reason an idea doesn’t already exist, is because it’s not worth making.  You might also call this step “market research”.

  • Make sure the market exists.
  • Are you solving a problem?
  • Search for the person who might buy it, and ask them.
  • Just keep it secret?
  • Move on to step 3.

You may decide to keep your idea secret.  Elon Musk (a famous entrepreneur) is known to not patent some ideas because that forces you to make what you’re doing public and their competition is China, who, “would just use it as a recipe book”


In the end, choosing whether to protect or not is a tight rope you’ll have to decide whether to walk though. There are plenty of stories about people who didn’t patent, and their idea was quickly knocked off as soon as it was shown to be a success.

Step 3: Decide what kind of protection you need.

Trademark, copyright, patent?  What kind of patent? Keep it secret?

Well, this is really a technical question, which depends on what exactly your idea is.  If it is an actual physical improvement or novel idea, then a patent is your line of inquiry.  If it’s content, or design, or a special way of doing something then copyright is your cup of tea.  Trademarks are really for a word or highly specific design that is specific to your company and industry.  You may need to speak with an attorney to finalize this choice, and the only reason it comes before step 4, is because you have to decide which attorney’s to call.

Step 4: Ask a specialized attorney.

If you have an idea of what kind of protection your idea might need, finding a attorney specialized in that area is easy peasy. Just run a quick search, and you’ll see dozens if not hundreds of available attorneys.  The hardest part is getting past the secretary and getting an actual attorney on the phone on your first call. Call enough, and you’ll eventually get someone who will give you a little free advice.

  • Get your idea down to 1 minute or less, by practicing it out loud. (You have to respect an attorney’s time, they charge heavily for it.)
  • Make some calls, and get an attorney on the phone.
  • Let them know you need help, and that you’re not sure it’s worth protecting.
  • Tell them your idea in 1 minute as clearly as you can.
  • Don’t hold back, attorney’s don’t want your idea.
  • Listen to their advice, with some skepticism.
  • End by asking, if they would invest the $XX,XXX into protecting it.
  • Getting an attorney’s idea of what they’d do if they had skin in the game, will tell you more than anything else.

Step 5: File the paper work.

If you’re still reading, then you’ve obviously got a great idea. Start filing out the paper work and get things into process. It’s long and tedious, and very hard to keep costs in check.  Remember, these are upfront costs on a product that might never sell, so it’s in your best interests to keep the investment as low as possible. If you can get some kind of temporary protection, such as a Provisional Patent, then it will buy you some time to test the market and be more open with letting your idea get in front of people.

Step 6: Pitch the idea to investors.

Now that you’ve got some protection, you will be much more viable to investors who do early stage investing. Patented ideas are seen as less risky, because of the protection that a patent allows. That’s not to say, that all of the sudden it will be easy, but if you believe in your idea and you make that show, then investors will be more likely to be there when you need them.

Citations[1] Business Insider : Elon Musk