The greatest prize I possess isn’t my computer, nor is it my programming skills, or even my experience — it’s my ideas. My ideas are what have kept me in business all this time. How you work those ideas from imagination to reality decides whether you profit from them, or watch on as others walk away with them.
Your ideas are your most valuable assets, even if you don’t realize it. But even a great idea is nothing if not acted upon. Sometimes, it’s necessary to share an idea, to make it real, but there are hazards to sharing ideas; you’re effectively giving them away.
“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason so few engage in it.” — Henry Ford
Crucially, it’s all about how you share an idea. And the best way to share an idea is to sell it to someone. No, I don’t mean to put a price tag on it and then hand the idea over once they’ve paid you, although that’s not a million miles from what happens in the end.
When I say sell, I mean to pitch an idea, as in to a client. A client will come to me with a problem, or a set of problems, and I’ll have a think about how I could fix those problems as quickly, efficiently and cost effectively as possible.
As was the case with the To Book hotel booking application I developed for Premier UK, when I came up with a very efficient way of processing bookings that kept the user on one page, minimizing the number of actions (and by extension, the number of clicks) they had to make.
The client calculated that using this one feature often shaved off between 30 and 60 seconds per booking, which is a massive time saving when you’re dealing with hundreds and sometimes thousands of bookings.
Protecting your ideas from theft — the big tease
Clearly, this is a very valuable idea, but it’s an idea that only really worked within the context of the web application itself, although I’m sure someone could easily replicate the idea elsewhere.
The thing is, once you come up with all of your clever and innovative solutions, the trick lies in how you pitch those ideas as features of something much bigger.
You want to say just enough to tease them with the benefits and the potential for cost savings, efficiency etc, but not give them too much information that they could go elsewhere with your ideas, leaving you out of pocket.
Using project management to profit from your ideas
For a business like mine, the up-front innovative thinking is a legitimate cost centre; one that requires your valuable time. But it’s hard to put a cost to those ideas up front, so you’re best bet is to recover the time from within the execution of the project itself, over time.
But the challenges are still present, even once the project is underway — what’s to stop a client committing to work, you spending a month implementing your ideas, and then having them walk away without paying a penny? This is why you must break the project down into key stages and charge based on the completion of those stages.
By doing this, you’re financially insulating yourself and at the same guarding your ideas. Typically, I’ll withhold the major ideas until later in the project, but this does depend on the client.
Would you like to know more about projects and payment planning? Read on to find out more.
Balancing your ideas — protection against exposure
Ultimately, it’s a balancing act. On the one hand, there’s your ideas and your natural urge to protect them, and on the other hand, before a client is prepared to make a decision, they need to know what that idea entails.
A good relationship with a client is always going to be the more ideal start to any project, but even that is no guarantee. So do you consider some kind of contract? Many businesses think this kind of formal arrangement will scare a client, but I’ve found many appreciate the effort and understand the potential protection a contract offers.
Those that dislike contracts might not be the best client to get involved with; are they really all that trust-worthy if they squirm at the prospect of putting their name to a mutually protective contractual agreement?
NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement)
You could also consider a NDA, or Non Disclosure Agreement, which could work within a pre-existing contractual agreement, and be applicable to a specific project only.
A NDA is essentially a brief that often contains commercially sensitive and very specific technical details. The purpose of the Non Disclosure Agreement is, as it’s name suggests, to ensure you do not disclose anything outlined within the agreement to which you’ve put your signature to.
IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) contract
Let’s imagine you need to use a third party to help out, perhaps providing programming services. Also, the client has come to you with a NDA, which you are obliged to sign. There’s a chance that during the course of the project you and your third party:
- could be providing intrinsically new methods / ways of accomplishing certain activities;
- as well as using code used elsewhere, from within previous projects of your own;
- and perhaps using commercial code for specific functions.
In these situations, you need to draw up an outline of who owns what aspects and which parties are entitled to do what with the various parts of the project, and perhaps for how long. If the client is willing to fully compensate you for your efforts, then fine.
However, if there are portions of code in there that belong to you or someone else, then some licensing arrangement may be required.
So the purpose of an Intellectual Property Rights contract is basically to protect the rights of your work, otherwise referred to as IP, or Intellectual Property.
All of the above are personal / professional experiences of my own, drawn from over ten years of being in business. And as is the case with anything that involves contracts and signatures, it’s best to speak with a qualified legal adviser first, to ensure you’re using the right language, and that your agreements are enforceable, should either party break them.
Above all, don’t be put off by the pit falls and legal machinations. Just keep your mind open and those ideas flowing. You can always deal with the legalities later on.