I frequently get messages from readers saying something along the lines of “I have a great idea for X, but I don’t want to launch a Kickstarter for it or share it, because someone will steal it!”
Putting yourself and your idea or prototype out there for the world to see can invite criticism, copycats, and sometimes ripoff artists who will blatantly infringe on your trademarks or copyrighted works. The more successful you are, the more you become a target for these types of predators. Thankfully, there are a few ways to safeguard your prototype, business, or project along the way.
1) Source your parts from different plants.
In my interview with MorphoMFG, a manufacturing and prototyping expert, we discussed the key reasons that creators need to source the parts that make up their product from different manufacturing plants.
“To protect your IP when manufacturing overseas, it’s important to breakdown the components of your product and have them manufactured in different factories. This way, one factory can’t easily replicate your product.”
2) Reserve domain names and profile names.
There are several essential steps that should be taken before you launch your campaign, however, one of the most important is to make sure that the name for your product or company is unclaimed as a domain name and that the Facebook, Twitter, and other social media profiles are available.
How annoying would it be if after putting in months, if not years, of hard work, you discovered that someone else has registered the domain name for your product and is now charging an exorbitant sum to purchase it, or worse, offering a similar product on the website.
It’s always more expensive and painstaking to remedy this kind of situation after it has happened, than to preemptively take action to secure your company or product’s trademark assets.
3) Expect derivative and similar ideas to pop up.
If you have a good idea for a product and it’s showing demand in the marketplace, then you can expect copycats to try to replicate your success. By occasionally monitoring crowdfunding websites (like these) and key search terms on google with Google Alerts, you’ll be able to spot these copycats before they develop any real momentum.
I would recommend proactively contacting platforms regarding projects that you believe are infringing on your trademark/copyright rights and, if you have a high-value technical project, enlisting the help of a lawyer to send out some scary letters, which might be enough to get those copycats from taking action.
4) File patent, copyright, and trademark protection documents
Depending on the country you are planning to launch a Kickstarter project from, these instructions may vary, however, having documentation for intellectual assets, ideally that is filed with your government, is one of the best ways to establish ownership in the eyes of the law and safeguard your company’s intellectual property assets.
Keep in mind that the enforceability of rights, particularly if the infringer is not in your country, is another matter entirely, which is why technology projects should take heed to the first point we made in this article and some of the points in this article focused on important legal matters to address before launching Kickstarter campaign.
“Before launching a campaign, the project creators should first identify all of their valuable pieces of intellectual property, and then decide how to protect them.”
5) Execute well and build a community
Finally, the best way to rise above the rest and drown out the noise of copycats is to execute better than anyone else in your industry and build a community around your product, which is based on trust, kept promises, transparency, and iterative feedback.
A business with a thriving community is extremely defensible from competition. Rather than worrying about how to protect your product, business, or project by using the law, make the relationship that you have with your customers, the amazing quality of your product, and your company’s transparency your real differentiator and competitive advantage.