Tips to avoid getting duped by shadowy investors


Corporate espionage happens when a third party uses illegal methods such as hacking to access your business proprietary information. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

My name is Mathew a software developer working with a startup. Last year I submitted an entry in a competition for climatic change-based innovations. The competitors were expected to submit their applications and thereafter present their concepts to a group of panellists. The winner would win seed funding.

I went through the process and was invited to do a presentation before the panellists. This is the last I heard from the organisers. I was therefore very surprised to learn that a company related to the organizers had developed a proto-type using my concept. I wrote tried to reach out to them but all calls and e-mails have been ignored. What advice can you offer me?

Dear Mathew, thank you for sharing your experience. It is unfortunate that the organisers took you for a ride. It seems all they wanted to do was get the best ideas from the market and then implement them without compensating the owners.

Do you have any legal recourse? It depends on the circumstances. You mentioned that you were asked to do a presentation to the panellists. Was it a verbal presentation or did you submit some written document like a concept paper?

Ideally, intellectual property rights would protect you from pilferage such as this. However, for one to qualify there are certain thresholds to be met.

Your software would have qualified for copyright protection which is granted in instances where you have fixated your “original creation” into a material form. Therefore, no protection can be given to ideas generally.

However, protection is granted when that is fixated or expressed. If you have a concept paper, drawings, proto-type, video or other mode of fixating that idea, then you are protected.

Here then are a few tips to avoid getting duped by shadowy investors who are only out to pick your brain. First, do not make any disclosures without applying for intellectual property rights.

Before submitting any entries, register for protection. This way you will have secured ownership of the work before making public disclosures.

Copyright is easy to apply for and can be done online through the Kenya Copyright Board portal.

Secondly, do a due diligence of the entities such as the organisers. You need to verify if they are registered or not, if they have a physical presence, if they are licensed, if they have prior experience in the area and so on.

Avoid dealing with shadowy parties who expect you to make a lot of disclosures without reciprocating. Avoid being swayed by social media posts.

If you are not able to speak to an actual person or visit an actual premises, then this should raise a red flag that you are dealing with conmen.

If after doing your due diligence you still feel convinced to proceed, then you need to ask them a few questions. Find out if they offer non-disclosure agreements (NDA) to entrants.

Find out if they have a data protection policy and how they will handle the data you give them pursuant to the competition.

A company that is legitimate will most likely have these policies in place. If they do not have them, then you could request them to sign an NDA with you. If they refuse it is better to walk away from the deal.

I would recommend that you register intellectual property rights for every one of your works whether or not you are seeking funding or participating in competitions.

Ms Mputhia is the founder of C Mputhia Advocates | [email protected]