6 Tips to Protecting your Proposal Idea

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Entrepreneurs (Runs Men) face several challenges when trying to sell ideas to prospective investors/companies. Let's face it,

we all hear stories of Company 'X' turned down Mr. Y's proposal then suddenly developed a prototype that was strikingly similar making tons and tons of profit in the process!
Whether these tales are true or not, they contain a seed of truth concerning ideas and proposals: In today's knowledge economy, the entrepreneur must take the necessary precautions to protect his/her ideas.

Here’s a short list of helpful suggestions.

Sharpen the saw: Conduct an IP audit
In simple terms, an Intellectual Property audit involves identifying the IP assets in an idea, reviewing the processes in place to generate and protect your intellectual property rights. Business ideas often contain a variety of intellectual property components so you need to identify what the IP assets are and how they can be exploited. For example, your idea may incorporate an invention or a novel business process which you will need to patent, a brand which you may have to register as a trademark; software, music or artistic creations which would enjoy copyright protection.
Identifying the IP components of your idea proposal will open up your eyes to several profitable ways in which you can exploit your idea. You may start to consider whether to assign or grant a non-exclusive license; whether to transfer only distribution rights while retaining production rights; or whether to be remunerated through royalties, a one-off payment or both etc.

The big picture: A detailed proposal
Yes! As basic as this may sound, your idea must be reproduced in a detailed, concise document highlighting the key features of the concept and its various components. You should also include a financial outlay showing as clearly as possible the cost of implementing the idea and the financial benefits to the potential investor or company. Your proposal should also highlight the value of non-financial assets such as patents; copyrights; trademarks; goodwill and brand value. ;)

Get protection: Register it!
Once your idea has been set to paper (or any presentation format), and you have identified the various intellectual components, you will need to secure the various expressions of your idea. You might consider applying for a patent license for an invention or a novel business process; registering a trademark to protect a brand or design; applying for a copyright notification certificate for the artistic, visual or audio components of your idea.
Truthfully, proving originality of an idea proposal could be rather onerous; however, your proposal document is a literary work and qualifies for Copyright protection under the Nigerian Copyright Act. A Copyright Notification Certificate, issued by the Nigerian Copyright Commission, may be used to show that you had the idea before approaching the recipient company. The Certificate also contains information, given under oath, regarding the name(s) of the creator(s), the date of creation and details of any license or assignment.

The secret weapon: Confidentiality/Non-Disclosure agreement
You should request that the recipient company sign a simple confidentiality/non-disclosure agreement before submitting your proposal, especially if the recipient can steal the idea and implement it. A confidentiality agreement offers specific protection when you need to disclose information about your idea to a prospective buyer. It states that the information contained in your proposal is proprietary and should not be shared, copied or disclosed without your permission. Disclosure is essential to the security of your idea. Always disclose the minimum necessary to seal the deal, without being fraudulent or misleading. This allows you maintain substantial control over your idea. Also, ensure that the representative of the recipient you are dealing with has the authority to receive the idea on behalf of the company.

Blaze your path: Always leave a paper trail
When submitting your proposal for consideration, be sure to obtain an acknowledged duplicate copy of the proposal as proof of submission. The recipient should acknowledge receipt of the proposal and indicate the name and designation of the receiving officer, the date and time of receipt and the recipient’s official stamp or seal. Your acknowledgment copy serves as evidence of submission of the idea to the company in the event of litigation.
Also, far as possible, use letters for all correspondence with the company.

Tying it all up: Consult an expert
Seeking professional advice from a Lawyer, Accountant, Marketing or other business development professional throughout the entire process will save you loads of time, effort and money in the end. You will need professional advice throughout the entire process. Be sure to keep your Lawyer in the loop as developments occur.

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Folarin Aluko

He is a Barrister and Advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. He is the Executive Director of the Intellectual Property Institute Nigeria and President of the Intellectual Property Lawyers Association Nigeria.

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