So I have an idea for a web project, for a website. I havent started yet, but I have bought a domain that im going to use. Before I start working or hiring someone to do the job, I would like to protect my idea. I dont have any code yet, but I know how the website should work and what is the function and everything.
Is it possible to protect that from being stolen/copied and what are the steps?
Step One would be to see a lawyer and get them to draw up a non-disclosure agreement for you that everyone will have to sign before you will talk to them about your idea.
Okay, but in that agreement I have to protect something. But what exactly do I protect? Should have the whole idea on paper?
Yes you should have the whole idea written down but not in the non-disclosure agreement. If you wrote it there then the person would read the entire idea before deciding whether or not to sign.
There are a couple of steps you can take, but neither of them will give you the protection you need.
First, as Felgall suggests, you can get your collaborators to sign a non-disclosure agreement. That will prevent from telling the world - or their friends - about your idea. Going further, you can get them to sign non-compete agreements, with the aim of preventing them from putting your idea into practice in competition with yourself.
But neither of those steps will really solve your problem. The basic truth is that you can't legally protect an idea. You can only protect the implementation of the idea. If you have an idea for a website, you have to actually develop the site before you can claim any rights in it. If someone else develops it first, they will enjoy full rights to the version they create, and there's nothing you can do about that.
However, the situation is not quite as bad as all that. Contrary to what most people assume, stealing an idea is not a particularly useful or profitable thing to do. It's not the idea that has the value; what's important is the skill, effort and dedication needed to put the idea into practice. Even if news of your idea leaked out, it doesn't mean that there is a body of skilled developers out there who will grab hold of it and build something useful out of it. The chances are that you will still be the best person to do that.
Thanks, that was really helpful. The reason I asked is that I cant develop the idea by myself so Ill have to hire someone to help and thats why I want to protect myself.
Perhaps you can split up the project into several modules, and organise the development so that no single person has a detailed understanding of all the modules, apart from yourself?
This is how many products are designed and manufactured. Various components are outsourced to one or more factories in lower-cost countries, and key technology and final assembly might be controlled at a single trusted home base under tight control, making it harder for each factory to just 'paint it green' and produce their own complete knock-off product on the side.
It makes things much more complicated, but if copying is a real worry then it is a possible solution.
No legal agreement can protect you from having your idea copied. It might prove you are in the right, but then you'll need to risk a small fortune to pay for legal work, trying to enforce it. So prevention is surely better than a (non-existent) cure?
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