Ways to Protect Ideas

The Four Ways

We normally think of four ways to protect ideas in intellectual property.




     Trade Secrets

If you want to protect ideas, you normally use one or more of those categories of law. This blog is mostly about patents. But you should understand a little about the other categories.

Copyright - Copyright law has to do with preventing the unauthorized copying of any work of authorship. Anyone can copy the ideas contained within a written piece of work. But the direct copying of the work is prohibited. Copyright is covered under federal law – the Copyright Act of 1976. Any document written after March 1, 1989 does not need to be registered to be protected by copyright law. You can simply place the copyright notice on your document. Copyrights can be registered in the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress though and if you have documents that are considered important you can both register them and use a Copyright notice on your documents. But again, there is no need to register the work with the Copyright Office or to seek any other kind of permission before using the copyright notice.

The copyright notice generally consists of the symbol © (the letter C in a circle), or the word "Copyright" followed by the year of first publication of the work; and the name of the owner of copyright in the work. Example: © 2006 Michael A. Ervin

Trademark – federal law governs trademark law. It governs the use of things like logos, symbols, etc. by a merchant to identify its goods and distinguish them from competitive goods. A related subject is Service Marks, which are used on services rather than goods. Marks (trade or service) rights come from just use of the mark. However if you really want to get the full protection of your mark you should register it. It is a good idea to engage a practicing trademark attorney to register the mark for you. A mark which is registered with the federal government should be marked with the ® symbol. Unregistered trademarks should be marked with a "tm", while unregistered service marks should be marked with a "sm".

Trade Secrets – state law governs trade secrets. A trade secret can be any information that derives independent economic value from not being generally known. Included can be formulas, techniques, blueprints, customer lists, etc. In any business the number of ideas protected by trade secret are usually much larger than those protected by patents. But many business owners are not familiar with how to protect their ideas with trade secret law.

If you need advice how to protect ideas under trade secret law you can contact an attorney in your state that is familiar with the laws of that state.


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Return to the Business of Patents Blog. 

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Get an effective patent search before drafting a patent. 

How to get a patent for your small business. 

The other parts of intellectual property law - including some patent law. 

Mike Ervin - Cost Effective Small Business Patent Protection