Risks and benefits of crowdsourcing- tips on protecting your idea
According to wikipedia,
“Crowdsourcing is the process of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from an online community, rather than from traditional employees or suppliers.” (wikipedia)
Even though the concept of crowdsourcing has been around for ages there is no question that the internet makes it even easier to collaborate with people you don’t know on a global scale that wasn’t possible before. Now entrepreneurs can easily share their ideas, test their concepts, market test, get valuable unbiased feedback, and find skill sets that they need. In fact one of my favorite personal must read books for entrepreneurs is Scott Belskys’, Making Ideas Happen, which is focuses on the importance of the process of sharing your idea, getting feedback, and collaborating in order to really take a creative idea from concept to market.
Of course there is definitely a risk associated with these types of idea sharing because when you share your idea there is some risk that the person you are sharing your idea with will take and run. However, there are lots of simple ways in which an entrepreneur can protect themselves AND take advantage of online crowdsourcing. First, there are traditional non-compete and non-disclosure agreements. Second, there are trademark, copyright, and patent protections. Third, there is simple documentation and record keeping of who, when, where, and how you shared your ideas. Of course there are many other ways to protect yourself, but these are some of the key basics. Also, don’t forget that under common law the more people know it’s your idea, your mark, your design, etc. the more common law protection there is for the concept being yours to the extent that your idea, mark, design, is unique and novel. This common law principle only works for those ideas novel, distinguishable, and unique. Moreover, they are not as strong as the protections provided by Copyright, Trademarks, Patents, Non-disclosure contracts or non-compete agreements. They are also very dependent on keeping good documentation and evidence.
While none of these measure are foolproof, if you really think your idea is revolutionary I suggest meeting with an attorney to make sure you have protections in place before crowdsourcing your idea. That way you can take full advantage of the amazing benefits of crowdsourcing, while protecting yourself from the risk of sharing your ideas pre-market.