This is the first blog in the series about and intellectual property, “The First Questions to ask yourself when you have that big idea” Read Part 2Part 3, and Part 4)


So you think you have come up with a big idea that is going to make a great new business….

What are the things every entrepreneur (whether starting up alone, or with friends; at University or after it, or off the back of another project) needs to think about after that Eureka moment and before you invest significant time and effort on that business idea to turn it in reality?

There is so much to do and think about at that point in time, and often one or two threads you are excited to dive-into to pursue that people either fall into not quite knowing where to start, or diving straight in and running the risk of wasting precious time and effort at that critical early stage.

I think there are a number of key questions lots of entrepreneurs don’t spend enough time thinking about early enough in their journey, for starters:

• Who might have helped contribute to your idea already? It’s best to make sure any co-contributors are with you not against you
• Where can you get some help? The most successful ideas always benefit from some!
• What do people want? Get to know your market, customers and competitors early
• Where to find some money to get going? But the right money for the right price

By investing a little thinking time up front on each of these questions you can avoid lots of headaches and wasted time and effort down the line.

In the following blogs I am going to suggest how you might usefully spend a little time thinking around and beyond your idea in relation to these questions and work out what needs to be done, so you can focus what limited time and energy you have to assess and address the biggest challenges you and your business idea might face today or in the coming years.

Who might have helped contribute to your idea already? It’s best to make sure any co-contributors are with you not against you

So you think you have an idea for a new business…. It’s wise early on spend a few minutes thinking about who might have helped contribute to your idea already, or who might think they have a claim on it.

The answer is obvious isn’t it? The idea came from your grey matter… so it must be yours…… enough said.

Sadly, it rarely is that simple and taking a few minutes to sit back and think about who else might think they contributed, might save you a lot of difficult conversations and tricky negotiations down the line, or if you do manage to make it big the inevitable lawsuits, and the costs they bring, to try to take a piece of your hard earned rewards on their terms.

There are plenty of people or organisations that might consider they have contributed, or that you might need to involve in due course. Knowing who they are, or might be, can help navigate the smoothest path for you and your business. Key things to consider are:

· Did you develop the idea alongside other people? Either by working on ideas together or just bouncing your ideas of other people they might take the view that they added something critical, or co-created the idea with you, and so deserve some of the rewards now or in the future

· Are you currently employed? Are you studying? Did you attend a course or event? Do your employers, educational providers or entrepreneur programmes have the view that what they have done, or enabled you to do, gives them some claim or part-claim over your idea. Or do they expect a return in some way. If you are a student at a University do you know all the funding sources (and contractual obligations that go along with the funding) that you may be subject to? Is your research or programme funded by an organisation that has something to say about who owns the business ideas that result from that activity?

· Has someone provided you with resources to develop your idea?  Again this could be a University, Employer or Entrepreneur programme, or it could simply be someone who has lent you some workspace, or a friend of family member giving you cash, or someone who has the waived the costs they are due in the belief they have a claim on the idea that you might have developed as a result. It could even be someone or some organisation that has helped you to get attention for your idea.

If the answers to these questions result in you identifying groups that have been involved in supporting the development of your idea to date, then they might justifiably might feel that you have some obligation to them, and you need to give serious consideration to these claims. (Equally if you get further help as you develop your idea you need to think “will the other party feel this gives them a claim to some return”).

With existing contributors this a claim to ownership may already be outlined in some small print somewhere – so check the small print, and get advice if needed. (If you’re at a University check with those that have access to the small print.) If it is there is such an obligation you need to respect it, or there is will be trouble in time.

However there may be no small print, it may just be a verbal agreement, or some moral or ethical consideration that you need to seriously consider too.  Indeed if you do make it big you might also wish to give back to organisations and networks that have helped you with no formal claim but are helping others to follow in your footsteps.

Dr Stuart Wilkinson is the Head of the Knowledge Exchange and Impact Team (KEIT) in Research Services, at the University of Oxford.  He is a technology & knowledge transfer professional, experienced in working with world class researchers to take new ideas and innovations into a commercial setting; and in developing strategic partnerships and collaborations to enable innovation to have a greater impact.


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