First of all, I`m sorry to say this, but ideas are a dime a dozen. A successful business is built on a business plan where you prove to yourself that you have a product with a viable market that is large enough for you to make a profit, that you can afford to reach this market with advertising, and that you can beat the competition in some way. (If you think there is no competition, either you are not looking hard enough, or this is not really a profitable idea.)
So, if you think you have a viable business plan and enough money to fund it - say at least $10,000 to $50,000 for an Internet only business, then it`s time to think about implementation and intellectual property protection.
Let`s say you have a business plan to manufacture and sell hand tools with fur linings, called FuzzyTools. If the improvement of adding fur to a screwdriver has never been done before, and if this is a useful improvement (say, it gives you a better grip in the rain), then it is possible for you to obtain a patent on this. The patent will cost you a minimum of $10,000 and several years wait before it could be issued. If issued, this would give you the exclusive right to manufacture or license the manufacturing of this type of tool.
If you created a website called FuzzyTools.com and sell your tools under the name FuzzyTools, then you have a trademark on the FuzzyTools name and others are not legally able to use a substantially similar name for the same type of product.
The information on your website is copyrighted. This includes the descriptions of your tools, etc. and others are not legally able to copy your web pages and use them to describe their own fuzzy tools.
So here`s the bottom line, if the concept and expression of fuzzy tools is a substantial improvement on existing hand tools, and you obtain a patent on this, then for 20 or so years you have a monopoly on manufacturing these types of tools. If you don`t or can`t obtain a patent, then after seeing your idea anyone else is legally allowed to copy your "idea", but not your copyrights and trademarks.
So, even if you don`t obtain a patent, if you are able to build a lot of name recognition for FuzzyTools, then although your competitors would be able to sell fur handled screwdrivers, they would not be able to call them FuzzyToolsToo, but must use a different trademark such as Furbys (we`ll, that one may be taken! ;-)
It is still possible for you to be the biggest, most profitable manufacturer of fur handled tools without actually having a patent on the idea.
For most of us, the expense and time to obtain a patent is not worth it, even if it really *is* a new idea, which usually it is not. A better bet is to analyze your competition, look at your working capital that you have for advertising, and write a business plan. If you have a plan that is better than your competition`s, then go for it.
My company is a perfect example of this. It is ContinuingEdCourses.Net, an online publisher of continuing education courses for mental health professionals. I wasn`t the first with this idea, but built a business that is significantly better than the competition`s in several ways (higher quality authors and courses, free viewing of all of our course material before payment is required, etc.), and with an advertising budget that is significantly higher than most of the competition`s as well. It is highly profitable simply because it is better run than the competition, not because it is a unique idea.
Whew, long winded, sorry. I hope this helps a little.
gsamad12/10/2008 6:56 PM