Startup Business - How to Protect My Idea?

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12 October 2014
Hi all,
I'm currently developing a new piece of software. So sorry if this is a completely obvious question but... What can I do to protect my idea under intellectual property law whilst it is in the development phase?

I want to do this before I bring it to other programmers and investors. I'm not 100% sure how far this idea will go but it's nice to know that I'm protected regardless.

If anyone has any advice or can link me to previous threads on the topic I'd appreciate it.


Hi xx_maree,

You want to get any prospective investors or programmers to sign a non disclosure agreement (aka a confidentiality agreement), to prevent them from stealing your idea or sharing it with others. This is basically a legal contract that you have any prospective investors or programers sign, whereby they agree not to disclose certain information covered by the agreement to third parties. Essentially it creates a confidential relationship between the parties to the contract to protect your intellectual property and information.

You can go to a lawyer who will draft one of these for you, otherwise there are various online firms which sell cheap pro-forma agreements which you can customise or have customised to your specific circumstances.

Don't enter into any negotiations or share your info with anyone until you get something like this in writing.
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12 October 2014
Thanks for the info Sophea. What if I'm trying to protect my idea from complete strangers? Is there anyway to do that?

I'm thinking that hypothetically someone could come up with a similar idea to mine. Is there anyway I'd be able to stop them from moving forward with it? Or can they do what they want and I just have to deal with it?

Sarah J

Well-Known Member
16 July 2014
Melbourne, Victoria
Hi Maree,

I agree with Sophea. The best way to protect your ideas/research/information from being disclosed to third parties is getting the person to whom you're disclosing this information to sign a confidentiality agreement (non-disclosure agreement).

No, you cannot protect your idea from being used or pursued by someone else to whom you did not disclose any information. Other people are allowed to come up with ideas similar to you and pursue their idea. There is no real originality in this world. When you think about it, every "new" idea (book, movie, startup, program, technology) is built on an existing idea or concept or an idea that someone had sometime ago.

From a practical perspective, especially in startups, the idea is often not the important part. Anyone can come up with a good idea. It is the execution of the idea that sets apart a successful startup from an unsuccessful one. Just work as hard as you can on your idea. Don't worry about someone else competing against you or stealing your idea. The best startups are a product of collaboration, mentors and chats with friends, family and others in the field.


Well-Known Member
11 July 2014
Hi Maree

I agree with Sophea and Sarah J that you should get prospective business partners, investors etc to sign an NDA if you are concerned about others running with your idea under their own steam. There are lots of suitable pro formas available online, or you can pay a lawyer to draft one if you want to be sure it's watertight.

If your potential business name or website is especially linked to what you do, you might also consider registering a domain name/trademark as early barriers to entry to other later market entrants

As per the last paragraph of Sarah J's comment, giving your idea air time with others will likely assist you to iterate effectively. In competitive markets, you bet if others come up with a similar idea on their own they usually can run with it

You may be familiar with a fellow Eric Reis who (I hope I am not misquoting) actually encourages start ups to try to get others to steal their ideas, he says it's often harder than you think! Haha, I'm not sure I fully agree with that approach though

As for the IP you create in the course of developing the software, you do need to have suitable IP clauses in employment contracts etc, though this is a separate question to the one you've put forward

Good luck with it!!
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