How to Protect Your Ideas

Ideas are what drive innovation and progress, and seeing them through to fruition usually means having to share them with somebody. Protect yourself.


Ideas are what drive innovation and progress, and seeing them through to fruition usually means having to share them with somebody. Protect yourself.

But once you’ve shared your wonderful idea with the world, how do you ensure you are rightly credited? We talked with three professionals who know a thing or two about protecting ideas: David Hannah is an associate professor of management and organization studies at SFU; Bradley Herbert is owner and principal of Bradley Herbert HR Consulting Inc.; and Otto Zsigmond is a lawyer specializing in intellectual property at Nexus Law Inc.

Get your papers in order

One of the most important precautions you can take is to make sure you document everything. Once your idea has been taken from you, it is very hard to prove that it was yours to begin with. “Unless you have done something proactive in the first place, like written it down and documented it, it is extremely hard to go back and prove that it is yours,” says Hannah. Whether it is a simple email between you and your boss or something much more complex, like patenting your idea, you will need to have proof that the idea originated with you.

Know whom you’re talking to

In order to put your idea into action, you will eventually have to tell somebody; just make sure you know to whom you are revealing your thoughts. “People don’t generally steal others’ ideas, but those who do tend to stand out,” explains Herbert. Hannah agrees that “there are usually certain people that others will warn you to stay clear of.” But you can’t always be so sure who to trust. “Even when people are told information in confidence, sometimes they breach that confidence, and then it can be messy,” adds Zsigmond.

Be a team player

You may not like it, but sometimes you have to place the organization’s interest before yours. “If you’ve got great ideas and you are willing to share them, in the end this will be beneficial to you,” says Herbert. Good team players are active participants; it is important to keep your co-workers in the loop with important information and expertise. Herbert stresses that “when you are giving freely, people recognize that.”

Set the record straight

If you think that someone has stolen your idea, the best thing you can do is talk to the person. You need to get the record straight; did they actually mean to steal the idea, or did they take it inadvertently? Herbert stresses that it’s important to have a “positive” conversation with the person you suspect of stealing your ideas; you really don’t want to make a bad situation worse.

Report it

As an employee, you can always tell your boss about the progress that you have been making concerning an idea. Keep your boss or your superiors in the loop, and then if a dispute arises, they will know that you were the individual originally responsible for the idea. “The thing about ideas is that they need to be shared,” explains Hannah. “A lot of companies will have a system in place for an employee to document an idea and report it up the chain.”