If you're in the business of developing original ideas for new products or services, you're probably faced with a dilemma. How do you pitch an idea to potential investors and clients without giving away too much information about it and risking it being stolen?
Here are some practical steps to help you deal with this issue:
1. Keep your idea secret before the pitch. Don't show off, brainstorm or disclose information to anyone prior to the pitch just because you think that your idea is great. Only disclose information if and when there is a clear need to do so, and the benefits of disclosure clearly outweigh any of the risks.
2. Be careful when selecting companies to pitch to. Do a background search on potential clients, contractors or investors. What does their work portfolio look like? Why would they want to get into business with you? Are they a competitor? Check their reputation before you surrender any vital information and get referrals and recommendations from others in the industry if possible.
3. Reveal only what you must and nothing more. If you're pitching an idea to a potential client, give them only the information necessary to convey what your product or service delivers. Don't bare it all if it's not required to seal the deal. If you're pitching to investors or lenders, you may be asked to disclose more information, as they will likely want to know more about your idea before committing financially to it.
4. Create and document an extensive paper trail. Record your idea or concepts in writing as much as possible, and keep detailed notes of discussions and conversations where you're disclosing information to other parties. The more details you keep in these records, the more useful they can be if your idea ownership is ever challenged in court.
5. Think about confidentiality. If you have to disclose your business secrets to other parties, it may be worth entering into a non-disclosure agreement with potential investors, contractors, clients or other associates. Be aware that asking investors to sign a non-disclosure agreement may risk you losing an audience, as many will simply not sign it. However, if the dangers of losing your secrets outweigh the business opportunity, you will need to make a careful decision whether to pursue it without non-disclosure agreements.
If you're pitching an invention rather than an idea, it would be wise to check if it qualifies for patent protection before disclosing anything to anyone. This is because your invention will no longer be patentable if you've disclosed information about it to the public before filing for a patent. Read about advantages and disadvantages of getting a patent and protecting intellectual property.
Finally, if you're worried about disclosing information about your idea or invention during a pitch, seek professional or legal advice in advance.