We often get asked by clients and potential clients who have come up with a good idea or product what they should do to prevent from getting ripped off. We all have heard the stories of creators who have come up with an idea for a new product and attempted to find a partner to help commercialize the product with no success, only to find the product come to market a short time later by a potential business partner to whom the creator disclosed his or her idea. And we all know about the myriad lawsuits that have been filed (with varying degrees of success) by creators of songs, screenplays and story lines when they believe their ideas and works have been stolen.
The most important thing that the creator can do is BE PROACTIVE and protect himself or herself at the front end to protect against getting ripped off after the submission to a potential business partner. Here are some important steps that the creator should take before making a submission to a potential business partner:
1. First, and most importantly, the creator MUST engage the services of a qualified attorney to advise him or her BEFORE the submission to the potential business partner. While it may cost some money at the outset to obtain legal advice, the amount so spent will be a very small amount compared to the cost that will be incurred and the potential economic value that may be lost if the creator gets ripped off. A qualified attorney can work with the creator to develop a strategy and plan to protect the creator’s work, and then document and implement the plan. Most services can be obtained for a very reasonable cost, often a flat fee.
2. The creator also MUST register his or her intellectual property. Whether the creator’s work is something that can be protected by copyright, trademark or patent, the creator should work with his or her attorney to get appropriate registration applications on file BEFORE any submission is made to a potential business partner.
3. The creator also should enter into an appropriate written agreement with the potential business partner prior to submission. Such agreement should include strong non-disclosure language and language that expressly provides that the potential business partner will not use the creator’s work unless and until a formal written agreement is reached. The agreement also should provide that the potential business partner will compensate the creator if the agreement is violated (i.e. the creator’s work is ripped off).
4. Finally, we strongly encourage creators to make submissions through traditional channels. It is just too dangerous to make unsolicited submissions to potential business partners. Instead, we highly recommend the use of literary agents, music agents, and the like to make submissions to business partners whenever possible.
The foregoing sets forth only a very general overview of some steps that can be taken by creators prior to making submissions to potential business partners. Creators always should consult with qualified counsel to obtain advice tailored to his or her specific situation.