Basic Training: Great Ideas Need Protection, Too

Nina L. Kaufman, Esq.

Nina L. Kaufman, Esq.

Nina L. Kaufman, Esq., owner of Ask The Business Lawyer, is an award-winning business attorney, speaker, and Entrepreneur Magazine online contributor. She saves consulting and professional services companies time, money, and aggravation by serving as their outsourced legal counsel.

Posted on December 26, 2014 in IP & Social Media

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This is a perennial favorite:  “I have no money, but have an idea that’s going to be great.  How can I take steps to launch it on a shoestring?”

Q: I have a great diaper idea for the ”on the go mom” that I think is unique. I don’t have money for any startup to manufacture this product, but I have started creating a presentation explaining how the product works. If this product goes to market, I’m sure it would be profitable for myself and others involved. In addition, there would be a possible partnership with diaper manufacturers such as Luvs, Pampers and Huggies. If possible, would you be able to point me in the right direction on how to get started with getting a patent or trademark, potential investors and anything else I would need to possibly get this product to market?

A: One of the dangers of getting started on a shoestring with great ideas alone is that ideas are very easy to steal. In fact, unless you have been able to translate them into some form of intellectual property (like a patent, trademark or copyright), it’s very hard to protect ideas themselves.  You could try to have your potential manufacturers, corporate partners and investors sign confidentiality and nondisclosure agreements, but often, major corporations won’t do that, as they may simultaneously be working on their own prototype in their R&D department and will not want to jeopardize their own efforts.

The Patent and Trademark Office has a lot of educational information on its website (http://www.uspto.gov/). That said, actually filing for a patent (or provisional patent) is not something you should attempt without the benefit of legal counsel. Doing it improperly or inaccurately could create long-term problems for protecting your prototype, which would make the product less attractive to investors. Where you may want to start is by consulting with an intellectual property attorney who knows this area and getting some ballpark figures on the costs for getting started on the right foot legally. You’ll also want to do some market research to get a clear handle on the potential market and costs for product manufacture to put into a business plan. Then you can make a more educated determination of whether you really do have the finances (or access to credit) to give your idea the solid footing it will need to move it forward.

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