Startups: How to Stop Bigger Competitors from Stealing Your Ideas

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Andrew Rapacke is a registered patent attorney and serves as Managing Partner at The Rapacke Law Group, a full service intellectual property law firm.
Startups: How To Stop Competitors From Stealing Your Ideas

When it comes to startups, nine out of ten don’t make it. This shouldn’t discourage you, though. It just means you need to do your due diligence before you get started. For example, 19% fail because the competition outperformed them.

You can prevent this from happening by protecting your intellectual property. Don’t make it easy for your competitors to figure out what you are doing and then copy and improve upon it.

Consider a Patent

There are two strategies when it comes to patents. You could take a defensive approach and protect value. Or you can use an offensive strategy and create value with your patent.

Defensive Approach

This is the strategy you will use if you plan to use your patent against the competition. This especially applies if your startup builds proprietary technology.

Some things to keep in mind with this strategy is that obtaining and defending your patents can be expensive and take a long time. You risk allocating all of your resources to your patent legal battle instead of building your startup. This can hinder the success of your company.

Offensive Approach

Now at this point, you may be leaning towards not getting a patent, but this isn’t what we are saying! Instead, use your patents to create value.

The first way you can do this is to create acquisition value. While the defensive strategy isn’t financially logical for you as a startup, it will make sense for much larger corporations.

You can make your startup more appealing by having an enticing patent portfolio. This way, you protect your startup and make it an enticing investment opportunity. You can be a success by having wealthy investors or receiving an offer for acquisition.

Trello was recently acquired by Atlassian for $425 million. Target recently acquired Shipt for $550 million. Then there is Chewy that was acquired by PetSmart for $3.35 billion.

All of these are online based companies that had proprietary systems and technology that the larger company wanted to have.

Provisional Patent

If you want a patent, but aren’t financially ready to pursue one, then obtaining a provisional patent may be a better course of action. This is a perfect solution if you plan to shop your idea around.

A provisional patent will protect you for twelve months. This gives you a time limit to accomplish your goal since there is no option to extend.

Trade Secrets

As a startup, you may not be ready to pursue a patent. Instead, you can protect your ideas by classifying them as trade secrets. While the requirements vary from one jurisdiction to another, there are three basic requirements.

The first is that your ideas are not generally known to the public. It can’t be a secret if everyone knows about it.

The second is that it gives you some kind of benefit. The value cannot be from only the value of the information itself.

The third requirement is that you make reasonable efforts to maintain the secrecy of your ideas. You can’t just call it a secret and think that’s good enough.

The benefit of a trade secret is that you don’t have to outline every detail of it in a written document somewhere. This can be more advantageous since a patent requires you to explain your invention in great detail.

If you want to protect your ideas as trade secrets, the best thing to do is consult with an attorney. They can explain the steps you need to take to protect your secret. This could be with the use of non-disclosure agreements for your employees and business partners.


A third way to protect your startup is to obtain trademarks. This can give you an extra layer of protection. Especially since the name of the company is often closely tied to the company idea.

If a competitor does decide to “borrow” your ideas, a trademark can give you an added layer of protection during litigation.

Obtaining a trademark is easier than a patent too. All you need is written proof that your idea is in the works and when your work started.

Protect Your Startup

When it comes to your startup, it is vital that you take the necessary steps to protect your ideas and prevent your competitors from stealing them. You have enough hurdles to overcome, don’t create another one by exposing yourself and your proprietary ideas.

By working with an intellectual property lawyer, you can create a suite of tools to protect your ideas in every way possible. They can help you obtain your trademarks, patents, and non-disclosure agreements.

Contact us today and let us help you protect your startup.

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