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How to keep your ideas confidential

Are you at the beginning stage of developing something or are you looking to disclose a patent? When you have a brilliant idea, you don’t want anyone to steal it and get it going before you do. However, you might need to talk to contractors, investors or people from your studies. How do you disclose enough information to convince them of your idea without telling them your entire idea?

When you are just starting with developing a new idea it can be through a company, the university or just for yourself. In all these situations you will have to explain your idea to different people. It is profoundly endorsed to ensure that your idea is protected starting from the beginning.

By keeping a log on what you have designed and when you made specific decisions, it is possible to show a judge that the idea was originally yours when asking for a patent. You can also log your idea with i-Depot from the Benelux Office for Intellectual Property. This is only possible if you are really the first to have that idea and when the intellectual property is yours. If the project is your own initiative, the intellectual property is yours. However, things might change if the initiator of the project is a company or university. When you are designing something in the name of a company the intellectual property is theirs and therefore you are part of the design team but the patent will be on the company's name. Some universities take a similar approach, stating in the study contract that intellectual property resulting from study projects belongs to the university. Other universities recognize that intellectual property is your own. It is therefore advised to have a good read through your study contract to determine how your university deals with intellectual property.

If you are serious about going the next step with your idea, most of the people you will talk to are professionals. If they think you have a feasible idea, they will either want to invest or participate. In that case, it is in their best interest to keep your idea confidential. However, to be sure they will not be able to take your idea and develop it somewhere else, try to describe your product or service in your business plan but do not include all the little important details, such as conceptual details or technical details.

When you really need to go into more detail with someone, make sure that you have a disclaimer stating that all information is confidential and is not allowed to be shared. Whenever you had a conversation with somebody you should always make sure to send a mail or physical disclaimer, within 14 days, putting in writing that everything discussed during that meeting was confidential.

If you want to ensure that your idea is protected as much as possible, you should make sure that everybody you speak to signs a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) before you provide any information about your ideas. There is a possibility of stakeholders not willing to sign your NDA before receiving information about your idea. When this is the case, try to consider their value to the development of your idea before you stop the contact or give them all information.

Having a signed NDA does not immediately mean that your idea is safe. You are the one who needs to enforce the NDA.