Intellectual property is near and dear to my heart. The sad fact is if you have a really good idea, someone will try to steal it.
I remember when I lived in Southern California, I took a one-day course on how to set up a business (more out of boredom at that time). A woman in the course told how she had designed a spider made of two colors of wool yarn as a child’s toy. It was quite a learning experience for her. She took a sample to a trade show with the intent of making and marketing them herself and was immediately inundated with questions she hadn’t anticipated, like “What sizes do you offer?” and “How many colors do you have?” Eventually, she was able to make a go of it, recruiting friends to do the fabrication to the point where she was buying wool yard by the railroad car. The upshot was about that time a major corporation realized the product’s potential and offered a competing version. But they made a mistake — instead of wool yarn they used a synthetic material. Their product wasn’t soft and warm fuzzy wool, it was slick and uninviting. Introduction of this inferior product quickly killed the market for both of them.
The same was true when I worked for a book and magazine publisher. There was a major instance of plagerism from one of our magazines (it was so obvious we were getting calls from all over the country, “Have you seen this?”), and it seemed some kids saw nothing wrong with posting our content on a website without realizing this was how were were making our living.
So what can you do? Some people never act on their really good ideas because of fears of theft. Yes, their ideas are safe, but they’ve gained nothing. But there are ways to protect oneself. Taking full advantage of the trademark and copyright laws is one way — the next time you’re shopping, notice all the unusual spellings, like “Froot Loops”, so campanies can protect their trade names. A trick from the publishing business is to introduce intentional minor errors into your material, just a few so if the writing is ever copied, you can prove the miscreant didn’t do the research. (Of course, this isn’t recommended for serious papers.) And it pays to stay one step ahead — by the time everyone else has caught on and is copying you, you’ve moved on to something else.