Basic Training: When to Acknowledge You’re SOL

Posted on January 11, 2014 in IP & Social Media

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There’s an old expression: No point closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. In short, you should have taken care of this beforehand, and now it’s too late.

Those kinds of situations arise often when entrepreneurs share their ideas. They’re so hot to trot for the concept they developed on a shoestring to hit the jackpot and catapult them into the financial stratosphere, they’re not thinking clearly about protecting themselves. As in this week’s question:

Q.: Someone has stolen one of my ideas after I sent the idea in an e-mail to them asking for their help. They later went on to make $138,000 from this idea. What can I do?

A.: In short, you’re SOL. The law doesn’t generally protect ideas–especially not those freely shared. Asking for help is not the same as securing someone’s agreement to keep the matter confidential and not profit from it themselves. Even if you could find a legal right, you then run into the practical challenges: paying for an attorney to fight the case for you in court. It could cost you easily half (if not more) of the amount they profited.

Here’s one that you can prevent–by not doing it:

Q. Can you use corporate funds for personal means? For example, using the copier and supplies for doing work for your own private business.

A.: If you’re an employee and using your employer’s supplies for your personal use, technically, you’re stealing from your employer, which could be grounds for immediate dismissal. If you own the company and you’re using supplies, well, that’s harder to track, but not the right way to be thinking. Why? Because it leads to bad habits. Such as, “if I can take a ream of copy paper and no one will notice, why not just pay my gardening bills or massage fees on my company credit card?” When you start to play fast and loose with your corporate bank account, you run a very serious risk that you could lose the limited liability protection your corporation (or LLC) is supposed to provide. The proper procedure is to write yourself a check (for your salary or draw), deposit that check into your personal account and pay your personal expenses from there. A little laziness can get you in a lot of hot water.

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