Submitted by Jeff Buster on Tue, 02/28/2006 - 11:43.


So you have a “good idea” do you, and you’re worried someone will rip it off. 

Maybe they will, maybe they won’t.  And even with a trade mark, copyright, or patent there is always the possibility that someone with more money will litigate you into submission.   

Yet it seems illogical that being “open” about your idea – in the style of open economic development – is a sensible strategic choice.  You say, “someone will need to show me the math…”   Well here’s my attempt to prove the equation.


If your good idea isn’t patentable, how do you keep that good idea as your asset?    For example, what do you do if you are in the construction business – where the public can watch you put up a building – or what if you are a musician – where the public hears everything you perform – or what if you are a juggler or attorney where the public sees everything you do - how do you “protect” your “good idea” construction technique or musical virtuosity or juggling trick or trial skills? 

Clearly in these examples – and in many, many areas of endeavor – the “good idea” is no secret – everyone can see or hear the “good idea”.  The “good idea” is public.  And, in fact, if they wanted to, anyone could copy the “good idea”.   But they don’t – because there are many, many  barriers  in the way of implementing someone else’s “good idea”.

The first and foremost protective barrier against rip off is defined by the “Peter Principal” – the principle that you “rise to the level of your incompetence”.  Everyone with less competence in the good idea will be unable to take that idea from you.   If  you “know” the field of your “good idea” better than any one else, you will be the best source for that good idea.  By commanding the most knowledge and/or skill in a certain area of expertise,  others may attempt to imitate you, but they will be unable to rip you off because you have a higher skill level than they. 

Therefore the anti rip off technique which protects best is be the best. 

If you have more passion, more networks with others to support your good idea, more motivation, more persuasion, more practice – rather than rip off your good idea, others will be more prone to hire you than try to do it themselves. 

And since practice makes perfect, the best way to demonstrate your passion, to refine and expand your networks of support, and to become more persuasive, is to put your “good idea” right out on the public stage.   Then you and your idea will be exercised, critiqued, improved, refined, balance, rounded.  By being open, you will be forced to be better.

If you are the best around – uniquely skilled and qualified – you’ll be able to ride the good idea without falling off or being ripped off. 

Well written Jeff



I enjoyed reading this.  

If you are the best around

It may also be important to put your good ideas out into public space to be recognized as the originator of the good idea - the inventor. First to market can be a competitive and legal advantage.


People do steal other people's ideas. And if the thief has the ability to pursue the idea more quickly than you, they may destroy your opportunity. They may not succeed, but you won't either. So you should do everything you can to protect your ideas in appropriate ways, be inventor and innovator, be first to market, and be the best...


BTW - all this is assuming you don't want your idea stolen and replicated... in many cases the objective is to get others to "steal" best practices and replicate those, as in for social good or viral marketing.

A need for change in the academic community

I think in many ways, the academic community -- where I'm from -- is so overprotective of their ideas it becomes counterproductive. Part of the reason is just  tradition, but it also stems from jealousy, insecurity and ill will for colleagues; the mentality that to succeed others must fail.

I have always felt that the if you don't want people to steal something you should just give it away. Being open with your ideas puts you in control. Putting your ideas "out there" does establish authorship. I look forward to seeing over the years how being open through technology affects my research.

Powerful distinction for intellectual property

The General Public License and Civic Space create standards for how intellectual property rights can be managed, that encourage open sharing - same in general with free and open source software. These are concepts that work very well, when everyone recognizes the same standards and ethics.