How to develop and protect your ideas


Converting Influence logoFifty enthusiastic members of Converting Influence got an information-packed hour on “Developing & Protecting Ideas” during yesterday’s spring meeting in Appleton (WI). The major warning for attendees:  All businesses have ideas that can be protected as intellectual property (IP). Will you keep yours, or will  you lose it?

Presenting were Kurt R. Waldhuetter, regional director with Wisconsin Entrepreneurs Network (Green Bay), and Tom Wilhelm, patent attorney with Wilhelm Law (Appleton). So, here are some Converting Curmudgeon-summarized bullet points to keep in mind.

Coming up with new ideas

  • Your business can be a follower, or it can break new trails. As such, innovation comes in two forms: incremental or transformational.
  • Incremental innovation improves efficiency, enhances appearance, expands a market’s concept of what it needs. For example, new combinations of technology make another existing tech’s use better, easier or figures how to make $$ from it. Think of how Google made using the Internet easier while it made Google a boatload of money.
  • Transformational innovation disrupts the industry, changes business, creates new opps. It is what seems “impossible” in your field, but if it could be done, the innovation would change the industry for the better.
  • Where do innovations hide? At the point where different ideas meet, where there are problems, or when there are different ways to look at a problem.
  • Got vision? Spark new ideas by hiring diverse employees, build a diverse team; get their multiple perspectives; compensate employees not only for execution, but for taking risks.

Safeguarding those ideas

  • The problem: Small businesses, in general, ignore intellectual-property issues, and do not protect their novel ideas. The opportunity: Idea-protection law typically provides, on average, 30% greater profit margin than for unprotected commodity products and services.
  • Correcting legal issues after trouble strikes costs about 50% more and is less effective at solving existing or avoiding new legal problems than having IP protection in the first place.
  • What is IP? Novel ideas that add to the reservoir of human knowledge. Idea-protection law safeguards these novel ideas which arise as a result of creative human thought. Areas of IP include patents, trademarks, copyrights, confidential agreements, trade secrets, unfair trade practices and licensing.
  • The rate of innovation in a particular industry helps determine the length of confidential agreements. Most “perpetual” agreements get thrown out in court. If an industry usually debuts new ideas very six months, it means your signing a two-year agreement is fine.
  • Patents give rights to exclude others from making, using, selling, importing or offering for sale the patented technology. They are country-specific. There’s no such thing as a global patent, although the International Patent Cooperation Agreement is meant to ease applying for patents in multiple nations simultaneously.
  • Overall actions: Watch your back. Internet IP agreements are not your friend; they’re not specific enough. Take aggressive action when you discover an infringement.

For more on IP and patent law, see my post: “Patents vs. Trade Secrets.”

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