How Do I Protect My Ideas?
Raw ideas are thoughts that have not been put into a form that is protectable by intellectual property laws. Raw ideas are free for anyone to use—they are not “protectable.” But if you want to protect your ideas, they must be put into one of these baskets:
Patent (protects inventions)
Copyright (protects creative works by authors and artists)
Trademark (protects brand manifestations, names, logos and the like)
Trade Secret (protects things that give a business a competitive advantage, very broad category)
In order to get the protection of the first three forms, you need to register something with a government agency. But mostly people just have product ideas that they haven’t fully worked out. Those may be protected by Trade Secret laws in every state (and now at the federal level) without registration. BUT in order to enlist the help of the government to go after people who use your trade secrets without your permission, you need to have a plan for keeping those ideas “secret.” Telling a lot of people your ideas voids any protection you might have gotten from Trade Secret laws.
So how do you have a plan for keeping an idea a secret when you need help from someone in order to bring your idea to market? You must (a) have a business reason for sharing the idea (e.g. you need marketing or manufacturing help from the person you’re talking to), and (b) you need to tell the recipient that your idea is protected by trade secret laws and get them to agree to sign a non-disclosure agreement that binds them to help you keep it a secret.
That’s it! Before you tell anyone your idea, have a business reason for telling them, and get them to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).
Some people/organizations refuse to sign NDAs. Think carefully about that before you proceed with them. Make sure you understand their reasons, and make sure you trust them. Publishers and some venture capitalists fall into this category of organizations.
If you plan to have a lot of good ideas (many of us do), then giving away a few of those may help you build rapport with a certain audience. But don’t give everything away, and don’t get angry if someone else does make money on the ones you purposefully do give away. Have a plan for each idea!
Entrepreneurs are going to save the world, and Argent Place Law wants to help. That’s why we are a team of entrepreneur-lawyers who provide Legal Business Counsel to Entrepreneurs just like you. Think how great will it be to have a legal team with entrepreneurial experience on your speed dial so you can call us up and ask, “I have a great business idea, how do I protect it?” Call Argent Place Law to find out.