intellectual property
January 14, 2010 11:36 AM   Subscribe

I have an idea for a new piece of software, and I want to ask people for their advice/opinion without getting the idea stolen.

For instance, if my idea had something to do with photography/computer graphics, I would like to talk to some experts in photoshop and some programmers.
posted by amsterdam63 to Work & Money (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Non-disclosure agreement. Could probably have a lawyer draft one for you for a small fee.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:37 AM on January 14, 2010

To be completely honest, there have been a billion "great ideas" in software that never got anywhere due to execution. Slap together a good, working prototype, and then shop it around under an NDA. You're not going to get anywhere with just an idea.
posted by Oktober at 11:39 AM on January 14, 2010

Sure, but even before I could get a prototype together I would want to talk to some people about it. A non-disclosure agreement seems to be a step in the right direction. Anybody know how much this type of thing costs?
posted by amsterdam63 at 11:44 AM on January 14, 2010

your free consulation with an intellectual property attorney could help with this.
for a fee they can also do a search for you.

i can't tell you how many times my IP boyfriend has told me about people coming in with this great idea only to find out it had already been patented and done. the IP folk have access to some resources us normal humans don't, in terms of looking what's up been done.

might be worth your while.
posted by sio42 at 11:45 AM on January 14, 2010

oh, right, IANAL, etc.
posted by sio42 at 11:45 AM on January 14, 2010

agreed with Oktober and Ironmouth.

Software is a difficult game, just ask any startup or the VCs. If you really believe your good idea for a new application/service/method then best to use business side skills towards getting a grasp of where/who/what will use it. Then a plan can be put into place.

By asking Mefi, my first reaction is to think you have a tiny bit of money to shop around along with a singular cranium focused business plan and a lack of experience within your market. Knowledge is key, but without building a foundation to your idea, think resources and cash, there is likely a long road to climb.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 11:47 AM on January 14, 2010

here's a sample non-disclosure agreement from SCORE. don't be surprised if someone people have no interest in talking with you if you expect them to sign an NDA first.
posted by jimw at 12:08 PM on January 14, 2010

Try googling "sample NDA"'s one.
posted by carlh at 12:10 PM on January 14, 2010

You also might try the FriendDA
posted by CharlesV42 at 12:26 PM on January 14, 2010

As a veteran of way too many "I have a brillant new software idea!" discussions, I would strongly recommend you save your money and use this pre-drafted agreement or one very much like it.

Except in very specific circumstances, an NDA doesn't really offer you much real-world protection: if you're disclosing tangible, specific data than can be traced back to the discloser, and which provably couldn't have come from any source other than you, them maybe an NDA would be useful.

An idea for a new kind of business, or a new type of software, however... even in the unlikely case that your idea actually is worth stealing, it'd be way too easy for someone to say oh, this isn't your idea, it's different in X and Y ways, and anyway my buddy so-and-so thought of it before you did anyway.

At this point I view being asked to sign an NDA as a reliable clue that I'm dealing with an amateur.

Ideas are cheap. Everyone you talk to will have a dozen of them kicking around, things they're promising themselves they're going to get around to building someday. If they ever do, they're going to build on those ideas, not yours.

And, to be blunt, if you don't have any expertise in the area your idea exists in, then the chance of you having thought of something that none of the people who are experts in that area have thought about is vanishingly small.

This doesn't mean at all that your idea has no chance to succeed. Implementation is hard, and much more important than the core idea. Marketing is even harder, and even more important. Worry about those. Don't worry about people stealing your idea; it's not going to happen.
posted by ook at 12:33 PM on January 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

I've counselled dozens of inventors with ideas for new technologies. While I've never refused to sign an NDA, I must say that no one is going to steal an idea. Developing a new technology and commercializing it are one hell of a lot of work.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:47 PM on January 14, 2010

I'll sign NDAs, but I consider them a joke. If someone wants me to sign one, I think of that as a sign that they are probably an amateur, and my mental calculation for "how likely is it that I'll get this gig" goes down by about half. I certainly am slower to respond to inquiries like that.

Look at it from my point of view. Often (not always, of course) I have lots of potential clients. It is as important to me to pick a good client as it is to you to pick a good programmer or designer. Making me jump through hoops, not being certain about your timeline, not having money ready *now* are all good ways to make me not want to waste my precious non-billable-time.

You want someone good to work with, right? Those people are *always* in demand. Don't make them think you are an amateur.
posted by Invoke at 1:01 PM on January 14, 2010

Not to sound discouraging but ... Unless you have something that can be patented, if you come up with an idea for a new piece of software that leads to a new application, and that application is found to be useful, others will likely re-implement it very quicly, probably with a better UI than what your product would have (learning from your mistakes), and you will essentially have no recourse to pursue and stop them.

Still... I agree with what other people said: the NDA mentioned is the way to go to *try* to protect your idea. But then again..., if Bob signs an NDA with you, and Bob passes along confidentially the idea to me, with some improvements that he came up on his own, and I go ahead and write some programs incorporating my own ideas on top of it ... how will you prove that I stole your idea?
posted by aroberge at 1:30 PM on January 14, 2010

Nobody cares about your idea. Nobody cares about your NDA. They will either not sign it and not talk to you or they'll sign it an ignore it. A few people will keep your secret secret regardless of having an NDA or not. The real question is how to find those people and there's no easy answer for that. And trying to enforce an NDA, even if you have a case, will cost a lot of real money.

But let me reiterate: you are the 10,000,125th person in this situation. A NDA is worthless based on 10,000,124 samples.
posted by GuyZero at 1:36 PM on January 14, 2010

Here's CD Baby's Derek Sivers take on the subject.
posted by sexymofo at 3:01 PM on January 14, 2010

+1 to GuyZero and sexymofo, and I would just add: if you tell me your good idea, I'm not going to steal it and try and execute it myself, I'm going to work with you to develop it. If a single person could do it alone, then you would be doing it yourself already. Also, by the time you make a bunch of people sign NDAs, one of the 6 billion other enterprising people on the planet will have come up with it themselves and will be working on it already.
posted by rjacobs at 4:30 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Like others have said, good ideas are worthless and plentiful; it's the implementation that matters. I'd suggest telling as many people as you can about your great idea, and trying to give it away / helping other people implement it. That way:
1. (most likely) it fails but you learn a lot and get ten better ideas
2. it succeeds how you have hoped, and you get credit

Data point: in college I tried to implement a good idea with a friend, on the cheap, and failed. really, you need all the help you can get.

IANAL: In the US you have a one year grace period to file a patent after public disclosure of an idea. So, I recommend disclosing it publicly so no one else beats you to it. Even if you have a patent, people will use the idea if it's good. Look up Chinese iPhone knockoffs.
posted by sninctown at 7:16 PM on January 14, 2010

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