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I came across a thread entitled How To Stop A Developer From Stealing Your Business Idea and i can't help but raise a brow. The issue talks about a developer being able to pass on the idea to another and benefit from it.

As a developer, what is the best way to assure your client that you will not steal his ideas? Are there any practices, laws or anything that takes care of the interests of both sides?

edit: linked to thread, and i didnt understand everything that was said

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It would be nice if you could post a link to that thread –  Anto Mar 10 '11 at 21:45
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I'd be highly doubtful of a website idea's value if I knew the author couldn't spell 'surreptitiously'. –  biziclop Mar 10 '11 at 21:57
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In general, ideas are overestimated (especially by those who have them). An idea is worth nothing until it is well-executed. –  user281377 Mar 10 '11 at 22:10
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Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If it's original, you'll have to ram it down their throats. – Howard Aiken, creator of the IBM/Harvard Mark 1 Computer –  Fred Nurk Mar 10 '11 at 22:38
    
What @ammoQ said. I've actually heard it said that if you have an idea you start with negative points. From there you have to get past being in love with your idea to actually learning how to execute. –  MikeSchinkel Apr 15 '11 at 5:38

6 Answers 6

up vote 3 down vote accepted

This is not a particularly rational fear, but it's one common among naive clients.

As others have suggested, start with a nondisclosure agreement to protect the negotiation, and make sure your lawyer helps you with that. In the contract for the work, include whatever promise of confidentiality you think appropriate, and assign all work (possibly excluding library code or open-source patches) to the client, so they don't have to worry that you'll run with it yourself. You can even consider a non-compete clause, although those are very tricky to get right, so I wouldn't suggest it.

But I think the real answer here is not in documents, it's in handling the client. Point out to him that you get new clients mainly through referrals from satisfied clients. Make it clear that you develop for a living, and don't want to run a service. (One analogy that works for some people is that you sell picks and shovels to prospectors; if you wanted to mine for gold, you'd already be doing it.)

And definitely tell him that his real power isn't that he has one idea; it's that he's the kind of guy who thinks up new ideas and has the guts to go with them. An idea on its own isn't worth much; any new business requires a lot of adaptation and innovation beyond the initial notion. If somebody else steals his idea, it won't matter, because he'll be 3 steps ahead by then. That's all true of successful entrepreneurs, so hopefully it will be true for him, too.

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for pointing out being naive, and suggesting something rather easy to do, thanks –  gladysbixly Mar 11 '11 at 19:48

Well, this is going to sound a bit offbeat compared to other responses given here.

How about you tell your client that since YOU and not HIM are the developer wielding technical know-how in theory and practice, it must mean that you are already smarter and more imaginative than he will ever be, therefore his silly idea that seems to be the next Google in his mind must have already crossed your and minds of hundreds of other devs across the globe and was already rated worthless by your superior mind.

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.... this must be straight out of customer relations 101 ... /sarcasm. –  Slomojo Mar 10 '11 at 23:11
    
@Slomojo - it's good you pointed out that it was sarcasm, otherwise it would have gone unnoticed. Have you also tried the infamous "pun intended+no pun intended", it might make your dialogues a lot funnier. –  Jas Mar 11 '11 at 6:41
    
@Slomojo More like "How to never get hired again 101" :) –  Anna Lear Mar 11 '11 at 14:26
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@Anna, seems that it's from the self-help book "Total Arrogance, it's ok right?" –  Slomojo Mar 12 '11 at 2:03
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While actual telling the client that without sugarcoating, i feel that there's a little truth to that.Clients who value their ideas to much often have a difficult mindset, in which they compare everything to an hypothetic ideal. Someone got successful with a similar idea? must be treason, the idea cannot be that obvious. Customers are not coming? must be the technical execution of the flawless idea, not the lack of marketing, etc. –  keppla May 14 '12 at 12:06

To form a successful relationship you have to have trust. If you start off thinking that a developer is going to steal your idea then there's no trust and your relationship isn't going to last.

A developer needs to know everything about your idea to know in the first instance whether it's possible given the time and resources available and also in order to build a solution that will satisfy you immediate needs and allow for change.

A good developer will contribute to your business idea and suggest improvements. It's not in their interest to steal the idea - that only leads to lawsuits and other people - lawyers mainly - making money.

That's not to say that you need to get non-disclosure agreements etc. drawn up and signed - just in case - but these should be seen as legal formalities not the basis for the relationship.

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There's non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), which are commonly signed by people who receive confidential information.

The problem with them, from the developer's side, is that people generally value their ideas much too highly, and overgeneralize them. This means that your client may well have an obvious and unworkable idea, or, what can be worse, an idea vaguely similar to something one of your other clients has.

I'd advise consulting an lawyer before starting to work with such a client. A lawyer who does that sort of work will know the law, and have a good deal of practical experience with idea-sharing. I have little experience with this, and don't even know your jurisdiction.

If you think a lawyer is too expensive, consider the cost of being sued because your client told you something one of your other clients is doing.

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+1 Rule 1: never sign anything without a lawyer. –  biziclop Mar 10 '11 at 21:55
    
+1 for getting the lawyer involved. –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Mar 10 '11 at 21:56

I might be simple, but I believe nothing beats a history of being honest in building trust.

Don't expect people to trust you straight away, that's not how business works.

Having said that, you can help them secure their idea first, if it can be patented, tell them how to do it, help with the application as much as you could. Signing an NDA will also help, but it won't automatically make people trust you unless you have a global reputation.

You'll also have to explain to them later that whoever they choose to develop the product eventually, they can't avoid a developer knowing everything about it. They shouldn't try to hide or masquerade the idea because they will end up with an inferior proudct.

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Sign an NDA that keeps you from using his idea or discussing it with other.

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