How can we overcome the theft of ideas?

An East African trader travelled to Singapore on the invitation of his supplier. The two had been trading in used cars and after three years they felt that it was the right time to meet face to face.

An East African trader travelled to Singapore on the invitation of his supplier. The two had been trading in used cars and after three years they felt that it was the right time to meet face to face.

After arriving in Singapore, the visitor was shown the attractions around the city. The following morning he was taken to a big house and given the keys.

“It’s your house.” the host told him. “Where from?” the surprised East African wondered.

The host explained that the East African trader had been sending more money than needed for his car purchases. The Singapore dealer had decided to buy a house with the extra money.

As I pondered this story, I thought about the value of trust in business. Yet it seems that the fear of being swindled and shortchanged are alive and well in our region.

A client told me how they had been appointed the local distributor of a product from Japan. His company approached various local companies with this excellent product. Imagine his surprise when one of the companies went behind his back and contacted the mother company in Japan to sell them the product directly.

They were told there was already an appointed agent in East Africa and were asked to contact the local agent instead. This incident demonstrates the bad practice of betrayal and mistrust in business. One wonders if the East African in the above story would have done the same for his Singaporean counterpart.

It seems many people are afraid of having their ideas stolen and are unwilling to tell their business concepts to other people.

A friend told me how he took a proposal to an office only for the proposal to be rejected. Two months later, he was shocked to see on TV the same idea being implemented by the person who had rejected his proposal as unworkable.

Examples abound of junior officers in the corporate world who take their ideas to their superiors for support. The idea is taken and implemented by the senior staff, while the junior officer gets no recognition. In such a case, many people opt to remain with their ideas rather than have them benefit other people.

One way of safeguarding your idea is to patent it with the authorities. This will ensure that you are recognized as the legal owner of that idea and you can sue anyone using your idea.

However, this is easier said than done given that patenting costs money. Suing in court also costs money and is out of reach for many people.

It is impractical for a worker to say to the boss, “I have this good idea that can help our company grow. Be careful because I have patented and might sue you if you take it from me!”

As it is now, we will have to come up with a creative way to earn from ideas. Even signing of non-disclosure agreements does not always work as idea thieves can still go round them and claim they also received the idea from someone else...

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Edwin Maina is a professional writer

 

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