Small business owners attribute their success to lots of things: hard work, discipline, forward thinking, great management. This is all true. But it all has to come from somewhere. And it usually comes from a great idea.

The idea may be completely unique. Or it may be something that’s a variation of something else. Apple created the iPhone. Other companies have successfully imitated and innovated from that design. Whatever the idea, it’s the property of the owner. It’s the intellectual property.

At least, that’s what we hope.

It’s tempting, and sometimes important, to let the world know about your idea. Doing so helps you attract capital, employees and technology resources to help you move your idea forward. Sometimes it’s just fun to yell out how smart you are. And today, one of the best ways to get your great ideas out there is through social media – links to articles, participating in online forums and chats, etc. This is what generates attention and conversation.

Unfortunately, conversations on social media have their risks. Namely….anyone can see them! Particularly your competitors. They can steal your idea before it becomes reality. They can borrow your best practices without you ever knowing about it. It happens. Many people do this. Many big companies do this.

It’s almost impossible to completely protect yourself against this, but there are steps you can take to limit the damage. A few thoughts:

Make sure you work with a lawyer to copyright important content or trademark your big ideas. At the very least, run it by an attorney. Know your options. If your idea is truly one that could be of big value in the future it may be worth investing in an attorney to help.

Ensure that your brand is included in your social media posts. Constantly include mentions of your brand in online chats and forums. Weave brand mentions into any content you distribute through social media. That way, even if your competitors point to it, you’re still getting credit for it. The more people see you connected to your brand the more obvious it would be for a competitor to steal it. And the better defense you’ll have if this ever happens.

But most importantly….resign yourself that if a big company wants to steal your big idea they will probably find a way to do it. They have deeper resources, better attorneys and more cash than you. Even if you have a great defense you’ll likely go broke defending yourself.

But there’s good news. You’ve got one huge, valuable asset in your arsenal: that’s you. You’re the one who came up with the idea. You’ve got the vision. And you’ve demonstrated how creative and innovative you are. Your job is not to just protect your idea, but to convince that larger competitor that it’s worthwhile paying for you and the idea together as a package. Your idea, your company and you might fetch a higher price if you position yourself as a package. Companies are always looking for innovative ideas. But they’re way more interested in innovative people. In the end, you are your own best intellectual property.

Check out this article to learn more about how you can protect your intellectual property.

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