Intellectual property safeguarding IP - How do I protect my proposal?

Lekan from United Kingdom asked:

"Before the first meeting you are requested to send in a proposal for the perusal of the organisation, in most cases they do not get back to you and before you know it they have gone ahead to use your idea. In your own view what do you suggest that the company in question do?"

A Negotiation Expert Answered:

During the purchasing process, buyers are typically viewed as enjoying more power than sellers - the power of choice. One of the best ways that sellers can use to increase their influence during the sales process is to ensure that there is a joint effort involved in arriving at a solution that addresses the requirements of the purchasing organisation.

As the seller, it would be advisable to solicit as much detailed information as is possible from potential buyers before submitting a proposal for consideration. In the event that you are requested to submit a proposal before a first meeting, it would be advisable to share with your client that the proposal will probably not be to your joint benefit, as it will be based on nothing but a generic view of what could be offered. The degree of relevance could therefore be very low and the proposal will not address the unique requirements of the organisation in question.

If you are asked to provide information before a meeting in any event, then we would suggest that you provide generic material explaining your typical approach in similar environments. You should then qualify this material with a statement to the effect that you would be happy to provide the potential customer with a detailed proposal after having had the opportunity to understand their requirements in more detail.

As well as describing the benefits associated with selecting yourself as the service provider, you should also ensure that you highlight the risks associated with not engaging your services.

Before submitting anything for the perusal of any organisation, ensure that you enquire as to the process that will be followed to arrive at a decision.

If you are concerned that your Intellectual Property (IP) or unique ideas will be stolen, then you may wish to have a solicitor draw up a Not Disclosure Agreement (NDA) to be signed before you share your ideas.

It is also very important at this early point to understand all the alternatives available to you for sourcing new business. Remember, if you feel uncomfortable with the level of disclosure or suspect that a prospective customer may not be acting completely honestly, invoke your BATNA (Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement). In other words, make sure you have many potential alternatives and you will increase your power in sales negotiations exponentially.

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