There is no point trying to patent software, according to multiple speakers at the Dublin Web Summit.
Your idea will be copied anyway, said Eamonn Fallon, co-founder of Daft.ie. Talking about your idea forces you to keep working on it, said Jan Reichelt, founder of Mendeley, a productivity tool for academic researchers. Insisting on a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) is one mistake many applicants make, according to venture capitalist and CEO of DFJ Esprit, Simon Cook. It is never too early to talk to customers or potential customers, said Paul Hayes, marketing guru formerly of Havoc and now with Kore and JOLT.
Their comments were in marked contrast to advice given recently at the Irish Computer Society (ICS) by Michael O’Duffy and David Trevitt. O’Duffy said Irish businesses were losing out “hugely” and urged them to be more careful when they approached others with their ideas.
At the web summit, however, the consensus appeared to be that if you develop software and put it on the web, it won’t take long for someone else to copy it. At the ICS, however, O’Duffy told the story of an Irish group that went to New York to pitch some banking software to a financial institution. The hosts refused to sign an NDA, and the visiting Irish were forced to either walk out or talk about their idea. After traveling all the way to the U.S., they decided to outline their proposal, were told it was promising, and left with the impression that they had a potential customer on the line.
Follow-up calls were placed over the next six months but nothing more than vague remarks were made by the New Yorkers. Eventually, the Irish were told the bank’s Paris branch had taken the idea and developed the software in house.
If nothing else, the story also points to a difference in approach. The web-summit speakers spoke of running with an idea and daring your competitors to catch you. The other approach is of developing a product that will be used in closed environments and pitching that to potential customers. The latter is less visible than horsing your software on to the web and, in my opinion, a certain amount of trust is implied when talking to potential customers.
But, as Trevitt even noted at the ICS, it is safe to assume that someone, somewhere, is copying your idea. It is probably best to build that assumption in to your development and marketing plans.
Image courtesy Paul Downey on Flickr.com.