You probably have that one million-dollar idea in your head right now. Don't bother, China can steal it in less than a week …

Most everyone has that one idea locked away in their hearts they believe could one day be a million-dollar product. The ‘meow translator'? Edible shipping boxes? Invisible hats!?!?

Genius. But what happens when you actually find enough motivation to get off the couch and create these things for consumers?

In reality, the process from a spark of initial thought to the finished product is brutal. It consumes time, money and virtually all of a person’s sanity. It’s an exhaustive measure of perseverance, and having someone steal that idea would be downright murderous. Yet, it happens all the time thanks to China and its unbelievably efficient system of manufacturing plants.

As Quartz reports, one entrepreneur by the name of Yekutiel Sherman fell victim to the country and it’s monstrous copycat system after spending nearly a year designing and marketing his invention, the Stikbox.

The product — a phone case that folds out into a ‘selfie arm’ — took him months to realize. And as so many aspiring inventors do, he created a Kickstarter campaign to fund it. No less than seven days later, Sherman saw the exact design of his being sold in the Chinese market, with different names, at half of the price he was offering it for.

It’s fallout of a speeding train with no real reason to hit the brakes. With a population looming close to 1.4 billion people, and a blistering manufacturing industry never before seen in human conquest, China leads by far in the ability to recreate others’ ideas, for a fraction of the cost anyone else can.

And there really isn’t anything anyone can do about it.

American copyright and patent laws only go so far. As it stands, even if someone does sue manufacturers overseas, it’s likely another company isn’t far behind in stealing the idea.

It isn’t easy to protect an idea against theft, but it’s a necessary step if your dreams include making millions off of an idea. Song Zhu, an IP dispute litigator at the Ruyak Cherian LLP law firm, tells Quartz that the first thing one needs to do is apply for utility and design patents that are valid in both the U.S. and China (and anywhere else you want to protect it from).

He adds that agreements should be made before any product is revealed to manufacturers, so as to protect it from being outright stolen, given to another manufacturer or the company making extra units and selling them on its own.

Basically, get a lawyer that knows what they’re doing, because you can’t fight them all.

“There are probably hundreds of small factories who might see a product on the Internet and think ‘Hey I can do this,” says Zhu. “How are you going to shut down all of them? How can you even find out where they are? And the money you spend suing them is more than you can get out of the lawsuit.”

Either that, or go the old-fashioned route and keep it offline until you have all necessary steps in the bag, with inventory stored away and a team ready to fill orders as soon as they come in. It's incredibly costly to do it this way but seems to be one of the few ways to protect oneself against the machine that is our benevolent providers of the Eastern Hemisphere.

Or just keep the idea a secret and continue folding shirts at the Gap pretending like they're ever going to give you a raise. Life, it's a bitch sometimes.

Photo: Reuters/China Photos ASW