When I was working on my dissertation, I thought someone might scoop my research and I’d have to start over. Looking back, that was ridiculous. For one thing, my research was too arcane for many others to care about. And even if someone had proven one of my theorems, there would still be something original in my work.
Since then I’ve signed NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) for numerous companies afraid that someone might steal their ideas. Maybe they’re doing the right thing to be cautious, but I doubt it’s necessary.
I think Howard Aiken got it right:
Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.
One thing I’ve learned from developing software is that it’s very difficult to transfer ideas. A lot of software projects never completely transition from the original author because no one else really understands what’s going on.
It’s more likely that someone will come up with your idea independently than that someone would steal it. If the time is ripe for an idea, and all the pieces are there waiting for someone to put them together, it may be discovered multiple times. But unless someone is close to making the discovery for himself, he won’t get it even if you explain it to him.
And when other people do have your idea, they still have to implement it. That’s the hard part. We all have more ideas than we can carry out. The chance that someone else will have your idea and have the determination to execute it is tiny.