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I have this Bright Idea

Ok, so you have a good idea. Now, how can you protect it? You want to develop it, possibly requiring financial assistance from others, but are just generally aware that this has risks. Your idea might be nicked.

Can copyright help? You have copyright in what you write down, or record and, as soon as you do so, and without doing any more. Copyright does not however protect the underlying idea. It protects the particular way that the idea is expressed, the words and general way in which you choose to set down the idea. If somebody sees your idea, and expresses it anew - in a fashion which is not derived directly or indirectly from your work, he has not infringed your copyright.

To protect the idea itself, you might eventually patent it, if you can. It is an essential element, however, that your idea is not published before you make the application for the patent. You cannot patent it if it has been made public. This seems to be a small but vicious circle. You cannot get help with the idea without showing it to others, and you cannot show it without making the help impossible. You will not get help if the idea can no longer be protected.

The initial protection lies in ensuring that anybody who sees the idea, does so under conditions where they accept a clear duty to you of confidentiality. They sign an agreement accepting obligations to you not to disclose the idea to anybody else.

Such agreements are primarily aimed at protecting a later patent application, and that their enforceability against someone who acts in breach will always be problematic.

For those new to this procedure, requesting someone you approach to sign these documents can seem to be an insult, and an unnecessary administrative overhead. They are not. Anyone with money to put in to support you will have nothing to do with you unless you request such a document. There is no purpose in putting money into an idea which has lost its protection.

The drafting of such documents should be undertaken with care. Situations do differ, and it is important to describe correctly the underlying concept.

Important: Please note that our law-bytes are retained for archival purposes only. The law changes, and these notes are often, now, out of date. You must take direct advice on your own personal situation and the law as it currently stands.
All information on this site is in general and summary form only. The content of any page on this site may be out of date and or incomplete, and you should not not rely directly upon it. Take direct professional legal advice which reflects your own particular situation.
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Copyright and Database Rights: David Swarbrick 2012
18 October 2013 102 18 October 2013