Protecting your ideas: Part 1 – Startup Weekend’s Thoughts on IP


protectedIn the last 3 days I have had many  conversations with different people about protecting ideas in Trinidad. I have realized that Idea Protection or Intellectual Property is the biggest concern in the Trinidad and Tobago entrepreneurial community, and it’s also one of the biggest obstacles prohibiting people from getting help with executing their ideas.

I am a little shocked because Idea Protection is not usually a high priority concern for entrepreneurs in the US, though it is important. But as my friend Nick explained to me, “the reason why it is not much of a concern in the US is because the US has the legal framework in place to easily protect ideas or take legal action”.

This 3 part blog posts is not about whether I agree or disagree, nor about the culture differences between Trinidad and the US. It is about looking forward and helping upcoming entrepreneurs with their concerns about Intellectual Property.

Although Startup Weekend is only a power-boost to push your ideas forward and put you in contact with amazing people and mentors, I was advised by a very successful businessman in Trinidad, that if I take responsibility to help the entrepreneurial community flourish, then I automatically inherit the responsibility of protecting the community.

Sadly, I cannot protect your ideas. However, I can share my thoughts and my knowledge about Idea Protection, and I hope this information helps you better understand the options you have and the business landscape in Trinidad.

So, let’s jump into it.

Wait… before I start, you need to know that I am not a lawyer, and anything I say in this article is only my opinion. Please do not say “Gerard told me to do this”. There are many different ways to structure legal agreements in business and you should get legal advice from a lawyer before implementing anything I say.

Now we can begin!

The first and most important thing you need to know is how Startup Weekend feels about Idea Protection. I pasted an excerpt below from the Startup Weekend FAQ :

What if I pitch my idea and someone steals it? Can I get my team to sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA)?

The standing practice of Startup Weekend is that NDA’s are not allowed at Startup Weekend events. There are a couple of basic pieces of logic that go behind that policy:

First, there is a vast canyon between idea and execution. Your initial idea is probably not going to survive its first contact with customers. In fact, you are probably going to make several iterations on that idea before you ever take it to market. And… there are a ton of things to get done before an idea gets to market. Many ideas die on the vine before ever seeing a storefront. If it were so easy to steal an idea from a 0ne-minute pitch, then maybe that idea isn’t all that novel to begin with.

Second, if you are that concerned about someone stealing your idea, you probably shouldn’t be sharing it. However, we’d bet that by sharing your idea at a Startup Weekend, you will get invaluable input that will help shape the final version of the product and that you will get a lot of help in getting that never ending to do list done. You might even find a cofounder or two who are as passionate about the idea as you are.

So, it is entirely up to you on how you share your idea at Startup Weekend, but there will be no NDA’s.

Outside of Startup Weekend you can  use an NDA to “help” protect your idea. I use the word “help” because an NDA does not protect your idea. It merely states that the other party should not share your idea. But as people are telling me, “This is Trinidad and a piece of paper does not hold any weight”.

So how do you really Protect Your Idea? Look out for my next 2 posts: “What are Ideas and How to Structure IP Rights in Teams” and “The Indirect Way to Protect Your Idea”.