Have you ever had a really great idea, but have neglected to share it with anyone because you were afraid someone might take your idea and get credit for it? You are not alone.
Probably an entrepreneur’s biggest fear of all is having their great ideas stolen before it becomes a reality. It turns out their fears are not as irrational as you might think, which should send a very important message to you entrepreneurs out there: if you have an idea, hurry up and make it happen.
Over the years, many entrepreneurs—by definition, those who turn ideas into actual businesses, products or services for others—have had their ideas stolen from them.
Many of these entrepreneurs have taken ideas from foreign idealists, often those working in their own fields of expertise, in some cases simply because the original “father” of the idea could not afford to fight for their right to own it.
In many cases, a product needs a patent in order for someone to be able to claim ownership of it. Patents are expensive, which means if you are racing to claim your idea, but you don’t have the funds, you might be out of luck.
Here are examples of many names you may have heard of before, famous “entrepreneurs” who in reality took their “original” ideas from someone else and claimed them as their own.
1. Philo Farnsworth, “inventor” of television
Have you ever thought about who is responsible for that box you sit in front of every night while you eat dinner? Probably not. But if you have ever looked it up, the information you were given, surprisingly, was most likely incorrect.
You can pretty much thank Vladimir Zworykin for the television you now know and love so much. This Russian “entrepreneur” of sorts was one of the first ones to pioneer the idea, even though Farnsworth is the one mostly credited and documented as its original inventor.
2. Alexander Fleming, “discoverer” of penicillin
The history of medicine is particularly fascinating, especially when we consider how modern remedies and treatments came to be. We have heard stories of civilizations long ago using methods we now roll our eyes at to treat those sick and wounded, so it makes sense that we might think Alexander Fleming was the first to realize the power of penicillin.
Actually, more ancient civilizations around the world were probably using it to cure diseases way, way before Fleming westernized and marketed it. He just happened to be the one to turn it into something seemingly new and very useful for the general population.
3. Thomas Edison, “owner” of over 1,000 patents
You know Thomas Edison. He is credited with inventing thousands upon thousands of things we know and love, including the first light bulb. Have you caught on yet? He didn’t actually invent the light bulb. It was quite literally a bright idea; it just wasn’t his bright idea.
Instead, many inventors from around the world contributed to the idea. Yet as seems to be the theme here, he had the advantage of knowing how to take ideas, put them into practice and get them patented, thanks to America’s superior patenting system.
4. Guglielmo Marconi, “founder” of the radio
For a long time, Italian Guglielmo Marconi was credited with the existence of our beloved radio. Radio is really just a transmission of signals, but he isn’t the one who should be given the credit.
It was actually Nikola Tesla’s idea first, which makes sense, considering his many other ideas and inventions, but this one has a mostly happy ending. The patent was restored to him eventually … after his death.
5. Alexander Graham Bell, “inventor” of the telephone
You probably recognize Graham Bell’s name straightaway as the guy who invented the telephone. It’s not your fault: for over 130 years, he was who we all believed rightfully owned the right to the patent. We were wrong.
In reality, an Italian invented his own version of the telephone first, couldn’t finalize his patent and essentially lost the “race” to bring the idea to life. Antonio Meucci has since been officially recognized as the one who brought the idea of telecommunications to life, rightfully stripping Graham Bell of his previous credit held for many years.
6. Albert Einstein, “creator” of the theory of relativity
E=mc2. You might not know what that equation means, but you’ve heard it before, and you know who came up with it. At least, you think you do.
The idea first came from France, specifically, from Henri Pioncaré. As you can probably guess by now, Albert Einstein was not the first one to present the idea. He just happened to be the one to make it take off.
Perhaps you don’t have a physical product you hope to call your own, and won’t be appearing on Shark Tank anytime soon. You might have an idea for a business or a service you can offer your customers, but aren’t sure whether or not your idea is unique enough … or you are worried that it is, and someone might try and take it from you.
Entrepreneurship is a tough, but manageable business. Once you come up with an idea, one that is original and completely unique of anything else that has existed before, you have to know how to go about turning that idea into a reality. Which isn’t easy, especially if you have competitors, especially ones in other parts of the world trying to accomplish the same general goals you are.
Here are some tips on how to protect your business even without an official, legal patent protection. Putting your idea first is what will make you successful in your industry, even if it means making sacrifices to claim it, rightfully, as your own.
The moral of the story is, take your ideas seriously. If you have a good idea, make it part of your brand and let it out into the world. You never know when someone else might come along and beat you to the punch.