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How do I Protect My Ideas

The only way to take control of your life, raise your standard of living and move beyond merely surviving is to create your own unique product or service that you offer to increasing numbers of people in exchange for the things of value that you desire. This simple formula applies to countries as well as people. A self-sufficient economy has its own products or services of value to export to the world. Similarly, a self-sufficient individual has something of value to exchange in the global marketplace. That thing of value is based on your natural talent, skill, or interest—in other words, your passion!

How often have you had a great idea for a book, a movie, or some other product or project only to find a few months later that someone else has launched and profited from your idea? How often have you had a great idea and ended up not acting on it because you didn’t want someone else--a bigger company, perhaps--to get wind of the idea and steal it away under you? Or, how often have you had an idea and held off on moving forward with it because you didn’t have the money to protect it? It happens all the time.

That fear, confusion and inaction happens to many of entrepreneurs, prompting the frequently asked question: "How Can I Protect My Ideas?" The traditional answer to that question involves issues of legal concepts, filing fees, and submission requirements.

But we’re not going to dwell much on copyrights, trademarks and patents here, except to say that copyrights are used in relation to written works (Literary Works Visual Arts, Performing Arts and Sound Recordings--i.e. plays, manuscripts, movie scripts, music, poems, etc). Trademarks and service marks are for logos, images and unique lettering that identify your company, product or service (like the Nike “swoosh” or the McDonald’s "M").

Patents are used for inventions and methods of production. You can get more details at the United States Patent and Trademark Office website at, and at the US Copyright Office at

I’m going to give you a slightly different answer that I think will be more helpful to your success. When people ask the question “How can I protect my ideas?”, they usually have a few scenarios in mind. First, what they really want to know is: "How can I secure my position as the originator of the idea so that if I see it anywhere else I can sue the copycat and make some money?" Second, they are also saying: "I don’t want to move forward with this idea and then have BigCompanyUSA see it, and beat me to the punch or run me out of the marketplace, and make the millions that should have been mine!" Third, there’s another mindset that I discovered by way of this actual letter I received through my website (along with my reply):

Hi Walt, I want to start a record label and "rap" group under a certain name I came up with like for example G-unit records and G-unit as the group. Do I need to patent, trademark, or copyright the names? What I want is to have exclusive rights to the name so that no one else can legally use them. I'm not really planning on selling my CDs but I just don't want anybody else able to use the name that I came up with. I would appreciate it if you could tell me which one i need to have done and where I can get this done.

ANSWER: That’s an interesting question, Joseph. What you need is to trademark your company and group name. The only tricky issue here is this: The purpose of a trademark or a service mark is to protect a name or logo under which you are trading or providing service--hence the names. The courts will recognize the true owner of the name or logo the person who proves he or she was first to use it in business trade or service. When you apply for a trademark or service mark, you’ll typically have to provide some evidence that the mark is used on labels, packaging, etc. to show that you are in business. So, simply wanting to reserve the name to prevent others from using it is questionable.

As a related thought, however, I’d like to ask you your reason for simply holding the name to prevent others from using it. There are no real proprietary ideas in the universe, you know. There is probably someone somewhere right now thinking of using the same name that you came up with, trust me. Your job-in my opinion-is to use your talents to share something with the world. The universe rewards with wealth those who act on their ideas and offer some value to the world. It seems a bit of a hoarder mentality to attempt to deprive the world of your genius and uniqueness of your label/group name by sitting on it. Act on it, or let it go! Act on it, or release it to the universe for someone else to create something of value with it for the world. You cannot use a trademark to hoard its potential wealth and lock away the abundance that the name may hold. Neither spirit, nor law will support you on that.

Legal Recourse

Patents, copyrights, trademarks and service marks are not protection in the sense that people wish. Having a copyright on a written idea does not stop someone else from having that idea, and does not prevent someone from publishing the same book you have in mind. What those types of legal concepts do is give you legal recourse in the event of such infringement. It allows you to take someone to court to prove your case and either prevent them from using the idea any further in its current form, or to perhaps benefit financially from their success.

However, as I mentioned to Joseph, one of the requirements in proving a trademark infringement claim--a claim that someone else is using your trademark--is that you prove that you were actually engaged in a trade (business) using that mark before the other person or company.

In fact, in your application obtain a recognized trademark for your company, you must provide evidence of the mark in use (on products, labels, letter head, advertising, etc.)

What are Ideas?

Ideas are the currency of your dreams. In much the same way that you exchange the currency called money for products in the marketplace, in this game called “financial success,” you exchange your valuable ideas and talents with the world for money.

The truth is that you really don’t create ideas. When you get an inspiration for a book or website or toy or invention or store, you are not originating that idea in the absolute sense. You are, in effect, tuning into a frequency of thought--just a like a radio--that anyone else can tune into. Ideas are floating around in the atmosphere and someone in the Republic of Nauru can have the same idea at the same moment as someone in Ghana. There have been documented instances of research scientists on opposite sides of the world coming up with products and ideas simultaneously.


Let me ask a few questions: Who owns the song Blinded by the Light? (non-rock fans be patient) Answer: Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, even though it was written by Bruce Springsteen. Who owns the title “Queen of Soul”? Answer: Aretha Franklin, even though there were other great soul singers before her. Who owns the concept of "Overnight Delivery?" Answer: Federal Express, even though UPS, and the United Postal Service and DHL and Airborne all provide overnight delivery. Who owns the title "Richest Man?" Answer: Bill Gates, even though there are likely oil barons in Saudi Arabia who are wealthier.

An idea is not owned in the courts. It is not owned in the vaults of the first person who had the idea. It is not owned by the better person. No, an idea is really "owned" in the minds of the consumer. In other words, you own an idea when the greatest number of people associate that idea with you.

The only way, therefore, to "own" an idea is to be the FIRST or BEST to get it out there, in the biggest way possible, and to occupy the mindshare of the population. The sooner you launch your idea and expose it to the world and attach your name/identity to it, therefore, the greater chance you have of being recognized as the owner in the public’s collective mind. That way when people hear about "That Unique Idea" the first person they think about is YOU! That association is worth more in future sales, goodwill, and reputation than the actual legal ownership of a concept.

What this all means is even the courts recognize that simply having an idea first is not enough to secure your rights to that idea. Those who take action on those ideas and actually use them are recognized and rewarded as owners.

Here are two more things to consider

While theft of ideas does occur, and I’ve personally known artists and writers whose ideas appear to have been appropriated by larger companies, it’s been the trend for larger companies to partner with or buy out smaller, more innovative, trendsetting companies. In fact, a wise entrepreneur once told me that the only reason to start a business should be to sell it. Individuals and small companies launch an idea, grow the business and then flip it by selling it to a larger company. It’s not a bad strategy, and one that creates the financial freedom many entrepreneurs are really seeking.

The second thing to always remember, is that your idea--if it is truly yours--cannot be stolen from you. Following your passion means that you are bringing something “un-stealable” to the marketplace. As I always say:

"If you create and market a product or service through a business that is in alignment with your personality, capitalizes on your history, incorporates your experiences, harnesses your talents, optimizes your strengths, complements your weaknesses, honors your life’s purpose, and moves you towards the conquest of your own fears, there is ABSOLUTELY NO WAY that anyone in this or any other universe can offer the same value that you do!"

And that, is the only guarantee you require to ensure that your ideas are protected! Your fear of an idea being stolen, and your reluctance to take the first step will, in all likelihood, allow another person, who already has the same idea, to get the jump on you!

SO GET MOVING!!! You really have no other option.

For more tips on acting on your ideas and creating a passion-centered lifestyle, visit!

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Until next time, remember, success is a journey, not a destination!-Walt


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