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Background: I have an idea how to improve a service offered by multiple companies but was wondering what’s to stop a company from turning me down and taking my idea for themselves. I would like to take measures to safeguard my idea so that I could go to another company if I am turned down or even pitching it to more than one company and see what kind of offers I get before making my decision.

Questions: Would a non-disclosure agreement fully protect my interest? Are there any limitations or risks I should be aware of prior to entering a non-disclosure agreement? What else can be done to protect myself before I proceed with contacting a company?

Jurisdiction: Albuquerque NM, United States

  • What jurisdiction are you in? – bdb484 Jun 16 '18 at 6:00
  • IANAL, but depending on the form of IP, a copyright/patent application can go a long way to protecting your IP, if someone else has not already thicketed the patent. Though it may be costly, it's a worthwhile investment to protect your IP. – GOATNine Jun 19 '18 at 19:29
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A non-disclosure agreement would be the customary way of protecting your idea. An idea for a way to improve a company's services is probably not something that can be protected by a copyright. Obtaining a patent for a business method is currently much more difficult than it used to be could also protect your idea.

This said, enforcing a non-disclosure agreement or a patent in court is expensive, slow and unpredictable. Often judges deny relief for one of many available reasons.

Sometimes people use trademarks to certify businesses that are conducted according to their methods, which help the certified businesses win customers because people learn to appreciate those methods.

The details of the method matter to what makes sense as a business model. Many people are employed by the hour as consultants, and if a considerable amount of time is necessary to teach people the business method, and it isn't easy for other people to be as good at teaching it as you are, hourly compensation until it is implemented could work to monetize your idea.

For example, as a lawyer, I can make a living telling people about law related ways to deal with their business issues and despite the fact that the underlying knowledge that I am providing has no intellectual property protection and is mostly in the public domain, I can do so because the relevant information its difficult for an average person to locate and apply, and it often takes a lot of time to implement ideas based upon this knowledge.

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