One mistake many entrepreneurs make early on in their business plan is not understanding the value of their ideas. Not protecting your business ideas is like having a vault filled with treasure that you leave unlocked in the middle of the street. Eventually all of that treasure is going to be taken from you, which is why nobody would be so unwise to leave such a vault of treasure exposed and unprotected. In the same way, no one should leave their business ideas unprotected. Here we will lay out four important steps you should take to protect your business ideas. All of the steps do not pertain to every business model so find the steps that fit your model of business and take action to guard the potential, value, and future of your business.
Copyrights are actually much more straightforward than you may think. If you have an original idea, that idea becomes copyrighted the moment it is converted into material form. From a video-recorded speech, to a paper drawing, or a blog post, copyright protection is technically attached to your ideas as soon as they take tangible form. Copyrights get you and only you the right to produce and reproduce your copywriter products. Although there is no need in the U.S. to register a copyright for it to be enforceable, it can be advantageous to do so, such as addressing any attempts for others to violate your copyrighted work.
Trademarks give you the sole right to use a mark on a service on a product. Registering a trademark documents notice to the public that you have exclusive rights to use this trademark on any products or services. You can register a trademark at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and the actual process of trademark registration can be a multi-month or even multi-year process. However, it is worth it to protect your brand since it could be very valuable someday.
A patent is a type of intellectual property that gives its owner the exclusive rights to making, selling, or trading an invention. The patent typically is for a set amount of years and the publishing of a public disclosure about the invention. You should consider a patent any time you have a good idea for a unique product invention and you want to guard against another business, inventor or entrepreneur developing and selling your invention besides you. Unlike a copyright or trademark, you cannot have exclusive patent rights to an invention unless you actually apply for and get approved for a patent with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
If you need to launch a product and you don’t want to wait for the lengthy process of obtaining a patent, you can protect your product with a provisional patent. A provisional patent is a legal document filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that establishes an early filing date for a product. A provisional patent could be a much cheaper and faster process than a non-provisional patent, which could buy you some time (typically 12 months) to protect your ideas until you have a more permanent patent in place.
Between these four processes, you should be able to properly guard your business ideas and inventions pretty extensively. Seek legal help for registering these items, especially with the complexities of patents, which can be costly in both time and money. Most importantly, start as soon as possible protecting your business ideas. After all, chances are there is someone somewhere who has or will have a similar idea and you want to always be able to claim you started it and have the legal right to ensure you’re the only one with legal access.