An idea can be your most valuable asset, but first you need to own it.
This story first appeared in the December 2007 issue of Entrepreneur. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
One of the most important steps in launching your business is protecting your ideas. Larry Apolzon, an intellectual property attorney and co-author of From Edison to iPod: Protect Your Ideas and Make Money, offers some tips:
- Know Your Patents. What patents do you need? "A design patent protects the ornamental features of articles of manufacture, and a utility patent protects the way things work," says Apolzon. You can even patent software under certain circumstances.
- Be Aware of Deadlines. From the time you offer a product for sale or make any public disclosure, you only have one year to file a patent, he says.
- Get Privacy in Writing. Get nondisclosure agreements from those you work with to develop ideas and guard any secret formulas or methods. Says Apolzon, "If you're not careful, you can give away great secrets."
- Bundle Your Rights. "Always think about getting different forms of overlapping protection," Apolzon says. "One kind of protection may not help you in a situation, but another type of protection can." For example, you'd likely trademark your logo, but it may also be copyrightable because it's a form of artistic expression.
- Keep Good Records. Your written file of ideas should include dates, backup and a long paper trail. If you came up with an idea first and can't prove it, Apolzon says, you're out of luck.
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