We engage with clients all the time and they are very often peddling their big idea upon which they have pinned their hopes of fortune and fame, and I am invariably intrigued by the steps they take to protect their concepts.
There are two extremes to the conundrum.
The most common approach is one of extreme paranoia. The client believes that every developer approached is a potential thief with every intention of running away with their riches soon as they hear the details. In this case, we are presented with a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) straight out the gate before we even have the vaguest idea what the client has in mind.
Sadly, all too often the idea is so unfeasible or has such a tenuous link with reality that the concept is dead on arrival. Even then, we don’t strive to shatter dreams so we tend to take the light approach by asking a list of questions (typically regarding the path to monetization) that we then send the client on their way to answer. 99% of the time, the client will crash into the realisation that the concept is flawed on the quest to answer these questions and that’s the end of that. However, there are occasions where the client just won’t see reason and refuses to believe their idea isn’t feasible and this is the time that the NDA is dangerous for our business.
You see, a typical clause of an NDA limits our firms’ rights to develop any similar concept or product to the one being disclosed. And it can be these broad brush strokes that place at risk from the irrational client. The classic old “I see you guys developed an app with location services. My concept that you said isn’t feasible also had location services so I think you lied to persuade me not to pursue my idea so you could developed something similar for yourselves!” rant.
On the other hand, we see clients who have absolutely no regard for the protection of their concept, who haven’t even heard of an NDA and who go around telling anyone who cares to listen about their brilliant idea. I like these guys, they are generally straight shooters who concede their ignorance about the technical aspects of development and are oblivious to terms such as monetization. As such, very often their ideas are founded in a very clear reality and are centred on simplifying an everyday task based on their experience. These guys are focussed on the value add to the user, not on some illusion of massive financial benefit to themselves and that key distinction often makes all the difference.
However, it is a sad reality that these good guys do get ripped off and that they do see their ideas being developed upon or traded the minute they have left the room.
So there clearly is a need for the good old NDA because the person who has a unique and valuable idea does deserve protection…no doubt. I just sometimes wish that that protection wasn’t at the expense of the developers’ protection from overzealous and disgruntled clients who feel that their idea isn’t getting the recognition is deserves because of some dark agenda.
At the end of the day the balance must lie in the favour of the person who had the original idea. What we also need is for the barrier for entry for idea development to be lowered so that these guys have more opportunity to self-develop or develop at reasonable cost should they be shot down by a development agency. You never know, we might think it’s a bad idea but we’re not fortune tellers with a crystal ball view of the future and, more importantly, there is no substitution for the passion of an idea owner. Maybe that passion is the key element that creates success out of dubious ideas…at least sometimes.