When looking for a technical co-founder, how to protect IP?


I understand the process of looking for a technical co-founder may involve interviewing several people, some of which won't be a good fit, or won't have the right credentials or life situation, etc.

How do I protect the IP for the idea of the venture in the process of interviewing co-founders? I want to share as much as possible about the venture to ensure the skills, drive, determination and commitment are there. Am I too worried about this at this point? Should I just not be concerned? How have other startups that looked for a technical co-founder approached the IP issue?

Thanks in advance.

Co-Founder Intellectual Property

asked Oct 3 '10 at 15:56
81 points
  • What are you trying to protect? Real IP, or just an idea for a business? no one is going to take you seriously if you ask them to sign an NDA to discuss a business idea. NDAs are really only useful when talking about information that has value - like technical implementation, algorithms, customer lists, etc. – Tim J 14 years ago

2 Answers



The truth of the matter is that the idea itself is not the object of value. As you've heard before, the long term execution is where the value lies. You could spend money and stress on drawing up an agreement, which is not enforceable for free, but that time is better spent working on the project.

The risk of somebody stealing the idea is less than it seems at first because the distribution of people is not uniform. If you don't select a person because they are incompetent, they don't have the ability to do anything with the idea. If you don't select a person because they are dishonest, a piece of paper will not stop them from attempting to steal the idea. If the idea has any differentiation from publicly available ideas, that will likely be found in details uncovered throughout the process that won't even be discussed during your meeting.

In a sense, you would only end up trying to protect yourself from the guy you would likely choose anyway. He is competent, enthusiastic and honest. Worse, you may scare a guy off from an informal interview by turning it adversarial at the beginning.

I am not suggesting that there are not dishonest, nasty people in the world, only that it is not the best use of your time to try and foil their evil plans.

answered Oct 3 '10 at 16:27
Jim Blake
196 points
  • A real NDA is not adversarial - it usually protects both parties. A sure sign of an amateur is an NDA that is one-sided. But your advice is still right - skip the nda. – Tim J 14 years ago
  • I agree, but it isn't the document that can be taken wrong...it is that the first words out of someone's mouth are regarding protection against problems. If I went to a restaurant and before being seated, I was handed a waiver that protected both me and the establishment, it would still give me pause. – Jim Blake 14 years ago
  • I understand - but your analogy is not really useful - A restaurant is a different relationship than a business partnership... – Tim J 14 years ago
  • Perhaps a bad analogy, but the point is not to compare the relationships, but to point out that before partnership details are discussed and the informal discussion to determine compatibility begins, inserting legal documents can put a damper on the open feel of the meeting. It adds friction to the more important objective of finding out whether this is the right person with whom to move forward. – Jim Blake 14 years ago


Fill and submit a provisional patent application (it's less than $200 with www.USPTO.gov). Once your application is registered (it takes a few days) you can reveal it to anyone, don't worry about anything. Assuming you documented it properly in your patent application.

answered Oct 4 '10 at 22:22
119 points

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