in the process of creating more than 50 new imprinted T-shirts,
whose designs can also be used for bumper stickers, posters,
buttons and more. How can I protect my ideas, slogans, phrases and
logos when showing and discussing them with professional graphic
artists or companies I hire to help me get professional-quality
Answer: First, before showing your creative product to anyone, get him or her to sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA). An NDA, which identifies what you're protecting, covers confidentiality, circulation, duplication and use of the information being provided. An at-torney can prepare your NDA, or you can prepare it yourself, preferably with an attorney reviewing it. You don't want to use someone else's NDA, because they almost always favor whoever writes them. Having a formal NDA may scare off a few people, but it lets the rest know you're serious and fully prepared to use the law to protect your interest.
Second, you may be able to copyright and trademark your creations. To get advice on what you can protect and the best ways to do it, consult an attorney who specializes in intellectual property law. You can prepare ahead of time by checking out the information online at the United States Copyright Office of The Library of Congress and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Some states also offer trademark protection.
You can start looking for an attorney at Web sites that list at-torneys by specialty. One such site is www.martindalehubbell.com, the online version of the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory. The print version is available in legal libraries and in the reference sections of many public libraries. Another good site to visit is AttorneyPages, which lists the attorneys you're looking for under the category of Copyright, Trademark & IP (Intellectual Property).
Nolo Press also publishes several helpful books, including The Copyright Handbook: How to Protect and Use Written Words by Stephen Fishman and Trademark: Legal Care for Your Business & Product Name by Stephen Elias and Kate McGrath. You can find out more at www.nolo.com.
Small-business experts Paul and Sarah Edwards' latest book is Changing Directions Without Losing Your Way (Putnam Publishing Group). Send them your start-up business questions at www.workingfromhome.com or in care of Entrepreneur.