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6 Ways to Protect Your Business Idea

Any original idea you have is valuable. You've put thought and effort into it, so why not protect it from being taken by someone else? There are a number of ways you can protect your original idea, including seeking a patent, trademark, copyright or even using a non-disclosure agreement. While each option offers different levels of protection and cost, they all come with the significant benefit of preventing others from using your intellectual property without permission.

In this post, we explore some of these methods and how you can go about getting them.

1. Patents

A patent is a temporary monopoly on an idea. It gives you the right to exclude others from making, selling or using your invention for up to 20 years after it's granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). You can apply for a patent in any country that has signed the Paris Convention or its successor, the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), but only one will actually be issued.

They are valid worldwide unless they are cancelled or expire before being applied for in another country where they might be needed later on down the line.

The benefits include not just exclusive commercial use of an idea but also a strong deterrent against competitors copying it without permission: anyone who does so infringes upon their legal rights and risks legal action taken against them under civil law jurisdictions around the world where patents exist - including fines up to $150k per day if caught doing so knowingly!

You should however note that the patent application process might take up to two years and could cost thousands of dollars to obtain.

2. Trademarks

A trademark is a word, phrase or logo used to distinguish your business from others. Your trademark should be unique and original. It can be descriptive (like Starbucks), suggestive (a picture of a book-shaped coffee cup) or arbitrary (the Nike swoosh logo).

When you register your trademark with the US Patent and Trademark Office, it gives you exclusive rights to use that mark nationwide on products in certain categories. You'll also have the right to enforce those rights against anyone who tries to use your mark without permission.

The benefits of registering a trademark include:

  • Protection against competitors using confusingly similar marks in their marketing campaigns or packaging;

  • Proof that you're the owner of your brand; and

  • The ability to license it for others' use on products outside of what you make yourself.

Trademarks could take as little as 3 months to file and obtain one.

3. Copyrights

Copyrights give you the exclusive right to make copies of your work and to sell or license the use of your work. It also gives you the right to display your work publicly and in any medium.

Your copyright starts when you create the original work, whether it is an article, a song, a painting or even a website. You can file with the U.S. Copyright Office online or on paper if you're outside of the U.S., but registering online is easier and cheaper than doing so on paper.

4. Trade Secrets

Trade secrets are a form of intellectual property. They cannot be protected by patent, copyright, or trademark law because they are not published works. However, they can be protected as confidential information under state laws, which differ from state to state.

You may also be able to protect your trade secrets by limiting access to them. For example, you can lock up your confidential documents in a safe or give them only to certain employees and not others. You can also limit the number of people who have access to your trade secrets, which makes it harder for competitors to learn those secrets.

5. Trade Dress Unfair Competition Law

Trade dress is the visual aspect of a business, including its name, logo, and packaging. Trade dress is important to protect because it can give your logo and products an advantage over competitors' products. Trade dress cannot be protected by copyright or patent law because there is no way to prove that you are the first person to come up with it.

Instead of filing for patents or copyrights on your trade dress (which would cost thousands), you can file a trademark application with the USPTO. This will protect your original idea from being copied by other companies who use similar designs.

Examples of trade dresses include: McDonald’s golden arches; Chick-fil-A’s famous chicken sandwiches; Cheerios boxes with a yellow smiley face; Apple’s iPod music players; Coca-Cola bottles; Tide detergent bottles in different colors etc.

6. Non-disclosure Agreement

A non-disclosure agreement (NDA) is a contract between you and another person or organization that states what information each party agrees not to share with others. NDAs can be useful in several ways:

  • They can prevent your idea from being stolen by someone else.

  • They give you power in negotiations with others, so they know they can't just take your ideas without compensation.

  • They establish trust between you and the other party, showing that both parties are serious about protecting each other's interests.

Your NDA should include:

  • The names of all parties involved in the NDA;

  • A short summary of what information each party wants to keep confidential; and

  • the length of time this confidentiality will last (i.e., until a product is released or until further notice).


With the right protection, your original idea can be the foundation for a successful company. As you can see from this post, there are many ways to keep your idea safe. While it may seem like a lot of work at first, once you start to get going on protecting your IP, it will become second nature and part of your everyday routine. Just take some time to figure out the type of protection that best fits your needs and how much time is needed before filing each one.

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