How to Protect an Idea

How to Protect Your Idea or Invention

In today’s world we are surrounded by information.  Countless sources are available on our phones, our computers, our televisions, our radios and there are new devices and new sources of information being developed every day.  This level of access has changed perspectives on commerce, travel, personal relationships, and virtually every aspect of modern life.  Along with all the innumerable benefits of constant connection to the information resources of the world, there are some serious pitfalls and problems to be considered.  The solution addressed here is the necessary protection of ideas.

You have an idea. It started as a thought.  It grew into a sketch.  It became a three dimensional shape.  Finally you have nurtured your fledgling idea to the point where it is ready for the next big step.  This idea could make you rich, famous, and maybe even put your name in the history books.  It must be protected.

Most ideas are never more than that…an idea.  Everyone has ideas but most never make it past the stage of conversational consideration. This article is for those people out there who have an idea for an invention, a product, a multimedia concept, or any other idea that you have decided must see its way to fruition.  You must take the necessary steps to ensure that any benefit that is reaped from your idea is credited to you.

There are many potential legal complications in dealing with things like intellectual property, infringement and many others that this article will not address in specifics.  To do so would require more space than is available and would involve more liability than can be afforded in this venue.  Going forward, any references to the protection of an idea will be in regards the general steps necessary to protect completely unique and original ideas outside of any existing idea, concept, product, or process and are in no way meant to offer of act as substitute for proper legal advice.

Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA)

Any time you share information about your idea or product, there is a risk that it will be stolen or infringed upon.  Before sharing potentially valuable information you will do well to have potential clients or investors sign off on a non-disclosure agreement that details exactly what you have shown them along with dates and times.  Not only will this serve as means to protect you if your idea is stolen, but will deter many would-be usurpers by making clear how serious and detailed you are in safeguarding your information.

Get Legal Help

Your idea is not safe until contracts are signed or until patents are filed and/or approved.  The idea is yours. You can do much of the research, marketing, and even parts of the licensing on your own.  What you are not likely be able to do on your own is to write contracts that are legally binding or effective for the long-term protection of your idea and any benefit that may be reaped from it.  You will very likely need to enlist the aid of a lawyer at some point during this process.  The right lawyer (one who specializes in patents, contracts and the like) can go a long way to taking the worry out of the negotiations, filings and even complicated verbiage you are likely to encounter on your way to protecting or marketing an idea.   There are also a number of legal information websites that, for a fee, can help in ensuring that you have all the necessary forms for the particulars of your legal situation.  This includes patent filing, copyright applications, privacy agreements, and non disclosure paperwork.

Find a Mentor

Without allowing your idea to “get out of pocket” find someone who has been through these sometimes complicated processes.  This article can only outline some best practices and common-sense ideas about the subject at hand.   While this and other resources can contain a lot of helpful information, the tips and advice gathered from the personal experiences of other people can be a great help in navigating some of the unforeseen pitfalls you are likely to encounter on the way to a protecting your idea.

What Not to Do

Many have mistakenly tried to protect their ideas with what is now referred to as a “poor man’s patent”  This mistaken concept involves a person packaging their idea, mailing it to themselves, and using the postmarks or registered mail receipts as a way to “date” their idea.  This is not an effective way to protect your idea, and will in no way, be of any legal assistance if you feel your idea has been infringed upon at some point in the protection process.

Keep Proper Records

Any thing worth doing is worth doing right…and is worth writing down.  Keep track of dates, take notes, take pictures.  Make copies of all of the above and store them separately and securely.   Extensive record keeping during every step will make every other step of the process much easier.

Use Resources & Research Your Idea

Now that you have detailed and outlined the specifics of your idea, you need to know if anyone has considered the same thing before you.   Depending on your budget, there are many patent search websites (including one provided by our good friends at Google) that you can pay to scour the U.S. Patent Office to ensure that you do not waste your time attempting to protect and idea or product that already exists.

Even if your idea is unique, it does not mean that it is a great or marketable idea.  Again, depending on your budget, there are many companies dedicated to market research.  These companies can protect your confidential information while helping you determine whether there is interest enough in your idea to move forward or if changes need to be made.  You can conduct this type of research on your own as long as extensive documentation is taken as to what, where, when, and with whom you share information.

Use Common Sense and Be Diligent

If you are reading this article then there is a chance you already have a potentially valuable idea for a product or process in mind.  The most of important part of any undertaking is to follow-through.  Unless you are already working with an unlimited budget you should expect this process to be time consuming.  Work hard, stay focused, be patient and keep working!  Do not be deterred by negative people or unexpected problems.   Do not go around talking about your idea.  Do not share more than you have to outside of the documented settings discussed above.  The prospect of becoming recognized or wealthy is enough to make, even the people you trust, consider the possibility of using your work for their gains.

Following the steps above is a very basic framework for a potentially complicated task.  Use these concepts along with other reputable resources to ensure that you have all the necessary and ever-changing legalities covered.  Everything starts as an idea.   Do not let yours get away from you.

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