Consultant’s Corner: Protecting Your Business Methodology

Consultant’s Corner: Protecting Your Business Methodology

Question: I’m a professional fundraiser for nonprofit organizations. My clients sign one-year contracts. How do I protect my ideas (e.g., fundraising strategies, event ideas, etc.) when a contract ends and the client implements my methodology themselves?

Generally speaking, your fundraising contracts should include terms and clauses that explain the ownership and permitted use of any intellectual properties (copyrights, patents, etc.) or other proprietary information that you may provide or develop for your clients.

While you may be able to prevent your clients from duplicating your unique business methods through contract clauses or provisions that are drafted with the assistance of your lawyer, certain business ideas (methods) can be protected by patent registration, as discussed in the legal and government information below. Assuming your business strategies or ideas are eligible for patent protection, a patent would offer legal protection from other parties duplicating or copying your ideas without your permission:

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Business method patent information:

http://www.uspto.gov/patents-getting-started/patent-basics/types-patent-applications/utility-patent/patent-business

http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/business-method-patents-30098.html

http://www.kuesterlaw.com/marketable.htm

Copyright registration information:

http://www.copyright.gov/

Since we do not know all the details of your professional fund raising activities and ideas that you typically put in place with your clients, we strongly recommend that you consult a local lawyer with expertise in patent and other intellectual property laws to help you determine the best method of protecting your business ideas. Your lawyer can also help you draft any protective clauses or provisions for your client agreements that address your business methodology intellectual property concerns.

About the author

Bill Wortman

Bill Wortman is the Chief Business Consultant for GoSmallBiz.com, with over 40 years of business experience. In addition to 12 years consulting small business owners, Bill’s professional career includes a big-eight CPA accounting firm, national consumer finance, big-three automotive manufacturing, Arby’s fast food, marketing, and other industries. He’s held multiple executive-level positions and fulfilled the role of CFO at large, publicly held (NYSE, NASDAQ, and AMEX) corporations. In addition, he’s been an owner of private ventures involving residential real estate development and a General Motors new car dealership.

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