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Help me, someone has stolen my idea!

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Thief at work
Thief at work

I don’t hear many instances of people claiming that their idea has been stolen, but I do hear frequently from entrepreneurs-to-be who are fearful of talking about their idea through concern of it being stolen.

While this fear may appear perfectly rational from their perspective, it very rarely is and could be described fairly as a phobia. As with any other phobia, it is self-limiting and prevents the individual from operating at their best.

To begin with, it is good to understand that the act of stealing is known as theft, and to understand what theft is, there is no better place to start than English Common Law.

The Theft Act 1968, defines theft as:

  1. A person is guilty of theft if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it; and “thief” and “steal” shall be construed accordingly.
  2. It is immaterial whether the appropriation is made with a view to gain, or is made for the thief’s own benefit.

The more astute may draw a perverse conclusion from this tired definition’s use of gender specific pronouns that only a man could be guilty of theft, but alas, for any budding female thief this is not an extract from some misandrous dystopia. It equally applies to you.

It is however, clear from this definition, that should another person take your idea and develop it into a successful business, they have not prevented you from doing the very same thing. It fails the first test required for theft, and therefore cannot possibly be classified as stealing. It would be fair to say that they have copied your idea, so you do have some reason to be glum.

Why so glum?
Why so glum?

There are but a few valid reasons as to why you should choose to be secretive about what you are doing, but in the main, you’re more likely to hinder your progress than help it. I covered this in more detail in my article on why being secretive about your startup idea will cause harm. Similarly, trying to protect an idea by asking others to sign an non-disclosure agreement (NDA) is not only fruitless but may also be damaging.

Finally, once you get stuck in and start building your dream business, the absolute best way of ensuring you aren’t copied is to make sure your idea is defensible. It is more than likely there is some form of action you can take to ensure that copying what you do is necessarily hard, legally difficult or simply not worth doing.

So if you find yourself thinking that someone has stolen your idea, then double-down and carry on regardless. Pay attention to what they do, copy what works and avoid what doesn’t. Their efforts in developing your idea could help to fast-track you to the product that your customers desperately need. And when you succeed, thank them for their help and for providing the motivation you needed to get it done.

Images supplied under a creative commons licence by elhombredenegroBenson Kua 

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