May 08, 2012

How to Protect My Idea as a Copyright

This is Brian Hall, an attorney with Traverse Legal, PLC, an intellectual property law firm that helps clients throughout the world identify, protect, and enforce their intellectual property rights. Today, I will be answering the question: how to protect my idea. Now, this question is a very broad question, but there are several things that can be done in order to protect your idea. The context I want to look at this in deals with when you have an idea and you're telling it to other people in order to either get funding, or possibly make a prototype for a product, or for some other reason.

Before I answer that question, let's keep in mind that an idea can be protected via a patent. It can't necessarily be protected via copyright until that idea is captured in some tangible form or medium. While that all sounds like legal jargon, the reality is that an idea has limited ways to be protected under intellectual property law. An intellectual property lawyer can help define the best way to protect that idea.

Welcome to Copyright Law Radio. We bring you the best in copyright news, legal advice and information.  From copyright infringement claims and defenses to threat letter issues, DMCA takedown notice letters, copyright licensing, and legal analysis of the latest copyright law cases, we have a copyright attorney who can answer your copyright questions.

This is Brian Hall, an attorney with Traverse Legal, PLC, an intellectual property law firm that helps clients throughout the world identify, protect, and enforce their intellectual property rights. Today, I will be answering the question: how to protect my idea. Now, this question is a very broad question, but there are several things that can be done in order to protect your idea. The context I want to look at this in deals with when you have an idea and you're telling it to other people in order to either get funding, or possibly make a prototype for a product, or for some other reason.

Before I answer that question, let's keep in mind that an idea can be protected via a patent. It can't necessarily be protected via copyright until that idea is captured in some tangible form or medium. While that all sounds like legal jargon, the reality is that an idea has limited ways to be protected under intellectual property law. An intellectual property lawyer can help define the best way to protect that idea.

In some ways, there may be multiple options, such as a trademark, a copyright, a patent and/or a trade secret. Regardless, if you're at the early stages, and you simply have an idea, you need to, at least, protect yourself to the extent possible. The first thing that I recommend is speaking with an intellectual property attorney that can identify what kind of protection pertains to your idea. If you're not in a position to hire an intellectual property attorney yet but you want to still pursue either funding or someone to create a prototype or manufacture a product related to your idea, there are ways that you can protect yourself.

The first, and most important, would be by using a nondisclosure agreement. Sometimes referred to as an NDA, a nondisclosure agreement governs what the receiving party may do with the information that you provide to them. Put another way, if you have an invention or an idea and you want to disclose it to someone, the NDA governs what that receiving party may do with that information, invention or disclosure. In particular, it usually limits how they can use it, whether or not they can disclose it and to whom, and, ultimately, who owns that which comes from your idea.

So, let's look at a specific example: If you have an invention idea and you want to take it to a manufacturer to create a prototype and possibly manufacture it to mass-market it, you'd be well-served having them sign a nondisclosure agreement that covers you. That nondisclosure agreement will generally identify what your invention is, make clear that you are the owner of the invention and any changes, additions, or improvements to it that may come as a result of your working with the manufacturer, and ultimately define what the limits of their use, disclosure and confidentiality requirements are.

In the event that they don't abide by the NDA and they do disclose it or provide confidential information to others, you, at least, have a breach of contract cause of action that you can enforce in a court of law against them. This is important because you may not have secured patent protection by filing for a patent. You may not have secured copyright protection by actually taking that idea and capturing it in a tangible medium. You may not have even identified it with sufficient particularity to qualify as a trade secret yet. So, ultimately, you need to have some right, and that right is usually based upon a nondisclosure agreement or a confidentiality agreement. That NDA provides you protection for your idea.

Ultimately, the breach of contract cause of action is not where you want to be at the end of the day. Instead, in an ideal world, you want to have an NDA, but you also want to have the additional intellectual property protections we talked about initially. Typically, if we're dealing with products or some other kind of invention, a patent is the best way to protect it. You can file a provisional patent to get initial protections or go further and file an actual patent application.

Again, an intellectual property attorney can advise you as to your best course of action and may inform you that there are more than one type of intellectual property that you are entitled to acquire as a result of your idea.

Once again, this has been Brian Hall, answering your question: how to protect your idea.

You’ve been listening to Copyright Law Radio, where copyright infringement, licensing, litigation, and news are always the topic of the day.  Whether you are a copyright attorney or a client, we are the number one resource for all your copyright questions.

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