I have a similar concern. I got burned a few years back when I came up with an idea for a business. I spent almost two years doing the legwork, searching location, determining the costs, doing market research, and putting together a business plan. However, when I started trying to allocate property, get city and county feedback and tentative approval for the business type and zoning, identiying potential locations on which to build, and finally contacting investors, someone thought hte idea was so good they ran with it themselves. Unfortunately they already had the resources, funding and connections I was trying to establish. I fond out when the ealtor I had contacted regarding one of the potential protperies I had priced out and told me it had ben sold. Then I discovered the company that bought it was establishing the same busniess concept I had been working on. I`m not certain as to how exactly they found out about the idea but there are a number of possibilities, such as city council debating the zoning for the business in a public forum (which is where I think it got started, then discussed in other forums like the Chamber of Commerce, etc. until someone thought `hey we should do that`). I talked to a lawyer and got the ole "too bad, so sad" line.
I have another idea for a business that I think would be good for the area and community - its a sports and family entertainment enterprise - but before I put another year or so of legwork into it, I want to make sure someone can`t steal it. I had and NDA and Confidentiality agreement attached to my last business plan but the lawyer said they don`t standup very well for a tangible commodity such as "an idea for a business". Apparently all somone needs to do is change some subtle aspect of the concept and it isn`t the same thing.
What can I do to protect my idea? Does copyright apply to such a thing? Is there any other legal course I should follow? Can an idea be considered "Intellectual Property" and if so, how does one protect it?
Thanks for any feedback or experiences others have had.
Unfortunately, you cannot really protect an "idea".
Think of it the other way - if you get your business started, what prevent others from copying you and start a business to compete against you next door?
If it can be protected (patent, copyright etc) legally, use it. If not, then you have to look at other things. Maybe it is your supplier who can do it better and cheaper than anyone else. Maybe it is an internal process which enables you to offer it cheaper. Whatever it is, you need to protect it... that means, don`t share it so easily. You can tell city and county what you want to offer, but there is no need to explain the details on how you do it.
If you cannot think of any competitive advantage, the only thing left is brand name. If you can get to the market early, maybe you can establish a strong brand before competition appears. However, this requires strong marketing from the beginning and may not be feasible for small businesses.