It happens to almost every aspiring entrepreneur. You believe you have a brilliant idea for a groundbreaking business, an innovative product or a service that is better than anything your competitors do. It is one thing to daydream about a great idea or invention that will make you millions, but quite another to turn it into a viable business. If you have a ‘eureka’ moment, you must protect your idea.

If your business centres on an invention, this is done by means of patenting your invention. If you want to protect your product or service you need to consider trade marking your brand. If you run a business along more ‘intellectual’ lines – for example, selling photography or producing literature – copyright is your form of intellectual property protection.

So as you are daydreaming about becoming the next Bill Gates or James Dyson, suddenly it hits you – What if I tell people about this idea and someone steals it? This is a problem because, eventually, you have to tell somebody about it. To get your idea off the ground, you might need vendors, investors, employees and maybe a business partner. So how do you market your idea to the masses without having someone stealing your idea?

Here are some essential facts:

1. YOU CAN GET A PATENT

Before you begin the patenting process, you must research whether your idea really is new, otherwise you will not be granted a patent. Once you establish that your idea is unique, discretion is the key. Keep your plans secret until a patent application has been filed.

Write down clearly what your invention is, how it works, how it could be made in bulk and at what cost, and what its advantages are, including a simple drawing if it is mechanical or electrical. Then apply to take out a patent either yourself or by using the services of a patent attorney. You can do this at the Irish Patents Office which is based in Kilkenny and also has a very useful website at http://www.patentsoffice.ie which is well worth a look. If you need professional advice with your application it is recommended to contact a patent attorney who has the necessary experience in your business area.

 2. PATENTS COST MONEY

Patent fees can range from the low hundreds to thousands of euro. The process of obtaining a patent is not something you go through on a whim as patents have filing fees and maintenance fees over the twenty year term of the patent. Some patents may not generate enough of a profit margin to justify these fees. Moreover, once your application is filed with the Patents Office, your competitors will know about your invention.

3. CONSIDER A NON-DISCLOSURE AGREEMENT

If you really feel you are onto something new and have yet to apply for a patent but you want to discuss your idea with some people without the risk of your idea being stolen, my advice is that you have the person sign a non-disclosure agreement. True, some people might bristle at the idea, but you need to be cautious and true business people will realise if there is value in your invention, there will only be value if you own and protect your idea properly. A non-disclosure agreement is a good way “to test drive your idea”.

4. COPYRIGHT: THE BASICS

If you create ‘intellectual’ works you automatically hold the copyright on them. This lasts for 70 years. You cannot claim copyright on slogans, names or titles, although these can sometimes be trademarked. Copyrighting also gives you the ‘moral rights’ to your idea. This means you can object to infringements of your idea. Copyright is automatic in Ireland – you don’t have to apply for it. However, it is worthwhile appending your work, where possible, with the international copyright symbol (©) followed by the year of creation and your name. Under international conventions, this protection extends to other countries and allows you to control how your work is exploited for money and how it is copied, adapted, published, performed or broadcast. This can be an important source of income for some businesses.

5. TRADE MARKS

A trade mark is a right that is granted over a word, phrase, letter, number, sound, smell, shape, logo, picture or packaging your business uses to represent its products and services. It is used to distinguish your goods or services from your competitors. In order to trade mark your brand, you need to apply to the Irish Patents Office and get it registered.

Registering a trade mark with the Irish Patents Office will give exclusive rights to:

    • use the trade mark across Ireland
    • use the trade mark for commercial purposes
    • assign, transfer or sell the rights to the trade mark to another business
    • protect the trade mark if others try to use it

6. FINALLY…

What makes the difference for successful businesses is not the idea alone. Today, the Internet’s worldwide communication means that ideas are instantly accessible and can potentially be easily copied and replicated. It is the implementation of the idea itself, a commitment to delivering the products, services or information that will make the difference. You can spend your time and money investing in legal protections like patents, trademarks and copyrights – however it is equally important that you get out there and build an audience of paying customers.

It takes a lot of energy to run a business, and there is no guarantee that any business will be successful. If you have an idea for a product, service or business, odds are, you also have the passion and the energy to figure out how to make it profitable.