Converting a new idea into a profitable business usually includes the creation of one or more forms of intellectual property. Here are four questions, which provide guidelines on how to best protect a new idea:
Does your idea involve a unique process, method, or invention?
If your idea includes any of these, then you may wish to apply for a patent. A patent generally gives the owner a monopoly on using the patented idea for 14 years. If the business idea is patented, it is usually wise to also apply for international patents to protect the invention’s use in other countries as well. A good patent attorney can offer more extensive advice if you decide to pursue a patent on your idea.
Does your idea involve a secret recipe, ingredient combination, or similar phenomena?
Unfortunately, many of these business ideas can not be patented. However, if you have a business and you intend to make use of them anyway, you can still use them and keep them as trade secrets. However, as trade secrets are usually not legally protected, it is wise to only disclose them to essential employees on a need-to-know basis. Non-compete and non-disclosure agreements for these key personnel can help somewhat, but these are not foolproof safeguards by any means. The moral of the story: The best way to keep a trade secret is to tell as few people as possible.
Does your idea involve a new logo, slogan, or other branding idea?
These can usually be protected through the use of a trademark (for logos and business names), or service marks (for a particular branded process). Trade and service marks are applied for in the United States through the United States Trademark and Patent Office. You can do a search at their website to see which terms and logos have already been claimed, and to check if your idea is still available.
Does your idea involve a new work of literature, music, or other intellectual creation?
Intellectual works are protected by copyright law, which prohibits the unauthorized reproduction of an author’s work or ideas. These usually last for the duration of the creator’s life, plus 70 years thereafter. In the United States, the United States Copyright Office handles registration, which is needed if you wish to file suit against others for infringement.
In summary, patents, trade secrets, trade and service marks, and copyrights form some of the most common types of intellectual property available. To be useful, however, these must also be defended from infringement by others, which can often involve extensive legal costs if the battle over intellectual property is a lengthy affair. Nevertheless, they are a valuable tool for securing significant advantage over other business competitors.
Copyright 2010, by Marc Mays