Is It Possible To Protect An Idea?
First and foremost, it is fundamental to clarify that it is not possible to patent and idea itself, at least in its abstract and general definition, but only in its practical implementation. That being said, this piece of writing will analyze which tools are available for its protection and when it is advisable to use them. Among all industrial and intellectual property rights, there are patents, utility models, designs and models, domain names, know-how and copyright. It is important to consider that inappropriate tools can often cause the permanent loss of any possible chance to protect an idea, even though worthy and innovative.
The first stage is to figure out how to make an idea become “real”: for example, it can generate an actual invention – an object or a process – or simply a challenge to something already existing thus improving its usage, or even more an aesthetic form. Once made clear how to implement the idea, according to its type, the most suitable protection form can be selected among the following:
- Patent or utility models for practical solutions to technical problems;
- Design or models for aesthetic forms, like a bag or a piece of furniture;
- Trade secret;
Patents protect the technical aspects of inventions and allows the right owner to prevent anybody from producing, using and selling the protected product for a period up to twenty years (the only possible exception regards pharmaceutical patents which can benefit, in some circumstances, from an extension over the usual twenty years). Besides the industrial applicability, the invention should fulfill the requirements of novelty and originality, so it should be innovative compared with anything else existing when the application is filed, and show particularly inventive aspects in relation to the widely known technology.
For all those solutions lacking a clear and relevant creative aspect, but featuring innovations to existing objects or tools thus making it easier to use them, it is possible to go for utility models. They last up to ten years and can be very important as a “parachute” for all those cases in which the patent application is unsuccessful for a lack of creativity, hence allowing to obtain a certain kind of protection anyways. In this regard, it’s worth specifying that a process cannot be protected as a utility model.
Now, let’s think about an idea consisting in a product, which is new and resulting from a personal creative process, but actually not capable of any practical effect – it could be simply a particular product with some distinctive aesthetic characteristics for example in its shape, colors, features or structure. In this case, this product could be protected as a design. It safeguards the overall visual appearance or some peculiar elements, and in this way it prevents others from copying or reproducing the product without authorization.
The importance of this protection form can be appreciated even more if taking into account that it defends a product from imitations regardless of their functioning, their possible usage or materials it is made of. Moreover, a registered design can considerably increase the intrinsic value of the creation, as it highlights and strengthens the importance of its specific features in the market.
It can also happen that an idea is used in a company expressly for its innovative characteristics, such as a particularly efficient proceeding or a know-how developed over time: in this case, it can be worthwhile to protect it with the trade secret. Contrary to patents, it doesn’t have restrictive requirements, but it can be applied to anything bearing a value for its secrecy and exclusivity. Of course, it is important to be careful and make sure that the secret know-how is actually treated as such, so that anybody getting to know it is well aware that the received information is secret. Moreover, it is relevant to consider that once the secret information becomes public knowledge, except if that happens following an infringement, the object of the trade secret is no longer patentable.
Finally, when the idea is developed in the artistic and creative field, or it is an unpatentable software, copyright may be used, allowing the complete exclusivity of the creation. Therefore, whoever wants to use it, wholly or partially, should always mention the source and cannot anyways do it with commercial purposes, without the author’s specific authorization.
Ultimately, there are several possible tools to protect an idea. Each one of these different options has its own peculiarities and features; indeed, it is up to expert professionals in the field to identify the best possible strategy in order to protect it.