Protection Mechanisms

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Protection Mechanisms

What's this for?

This tool is for determining the best ways to protect your venture idea from imitation by competitors, and to avoid the legal hazards of imitating others.

Business protection has two sides. The term 'Appropriability' refers to both the degree and ways in which you can appropriate value from your business idea while protecting it from imitation (Protection); and avoiding trespassing on the rights of other competitors (having Freedom to Operate).

Few ideas are ever entirely unique, so before saying that your idea is protectable, you need to check that it would not infringe on the intellectual property rights of other parties.

Some technologies, products or business ideas can be shielded from competition by relying on strong intellectual property rights to create temporary monopoly rights and barriers to entry while the business develops. When it is not possible or desirable to register IP rights such as a patent, an alternative legal mechanism is the trade secret.

Some ideas cannot be protected by legal tools, so the venture needs to find other ways to retain competitive advantage, usually through market entry strategies, relationships, and/or complexity.

Recommended easy reading for context: Chapter 6 of The Smart Entrepreneur.


• To find out whether your idea infringes legal and economic rights (patents, copyright, etc.) held by other parties/competitors, and identify suitable courses of action.

• To determine whether and how best you can protect your business idea – either through strong intellectual property rights, trade secrets, or through a good market strategy (e.g. ‘speed to market’, going ‘under the radar’, creating a ‘pull effect’ through the value network, leveraging complexity).

• To estimate the cost/benefit of different types of protection and draft an appropriability strategy for your business.

Suggested steps

1. Click the link to access the Learning Manual: IE&D Appropriability - An Introduction.

2. Check whether you have ‘freedom to operate’; if there any potential challenges to your business posed by the intellectual property of other parties, determine how you can address them. This might be by 'designing around' other people's patents with small modification to your product.

3. Determine which legal or strategic protection methods are applicable to your proposed business, and study your options. If you can't get a patent or other form of registered IP, take a look at the slides on 'Other protection mechanisms'.

4. Assess the costs and benefits of different types of protection for your idea, both monetary and temporal.

5. Having weighed up the possibilities, draft what you think is a suitable protection strategy for your business.

If you need to print out a copy of the learning manual(s) for offline use, please follow these steps:
    - Click the "Create PDF" button at the top right hand corner of the page.
    - Scroll to the "Attachment" section (at the end of the last page).
    - Click on the paperclip icon next to the manual.