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Talking Intellectual Property: How Openly Should Entrepreneurs Share Their Ideas?

Intellectual property
Cynthia Dahl, who is director of the Detkin Intellectual Property and Technology Legal Clinic in Philadelphia, helps business owners sort through IP issues, handling questions like: Should entrepreneurs ask investors to sign non-disclosure agreements? What are the advantages of seeking a provisional patent? What do you do if you’ve been waiting four years and your patent still hasn’t been approved? How do you decide when to proceed with marketing a product and when to hold off? And how can you protect yourself if you want to outsource the manufacturing of a product to China?

Those were precisely the kinds of questions Dahl answered recently as a guest on Mind Your Business, the small-business call-in show I co-host with Celeste Corrado, executive director of the Wharton Small Business Development Center.

During the show, which airs live Thursdays at 1 ET on Sirius XM 111, we discussed why it is that in Silicon Valley some venture capitalists will show entrepreneurs the door just for asking them to sign a non-disclosure agreement. I asked Dahl if this was the case because VCs run Silicon Valley or whether it was somehow in the entrepreneurs’ interest to share their ideas openly. She responded skeptically: “I don’t know if it’s in the interest of the entrepreneur not to protect the entrepreneur.” She also pointed out that this doesn’t just happen in Silicon Valley. “The advice I give to entrepreneurs,” she said, “is to talk about their ideas but to keep it pretty general and pretty high level.” She also stressed that entrepreneurs shouldn’t presume they own a business name just because they’ve registered a domain name.

On Mind Your Business, we don’t tell anyone how to run their business; we kick around ideas and strategies and consider options. Our next guest will be Doug Tatum, who wrote the book No Man’s Land, which talks about the difficult transition many companies experience when they suddenly realize they are too big to be small.

Read more: Forbes