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Intellectual Property Law Protects the Details, Not the Mere Idea

Under Intellectual Property law you cannot protect a mere idea or concept.  What you can protect is the more specific aspects and applications of that idea.  All branches of intellectual property law follow this precept, although each applies it in its different way.

Copyright law dictates that ideas are not protectable, but the manner in which the idea is expressed is.  The way something is drawn, written, or coded are examples of protected expression that affords the author exclusive rights to the creative work. 

Trademarks are protectable only when used in connection with particular goods and services.  You cannot just own a word, tagline, or logo without that branding being affixed to a product or a service you provide to others.

With patents, an idea becomes protectable when the inventor conceives of how the invention works, operates or is configured.  Patents only exist when issued by the US or foreign patent office and require a description in reasonable detail that would allow the process or device to be recreated.  

Trade secrets are not merely the confidential idea you may think of.  To qualify as a protectable trade secret, the concept of information you developed must have value due to its secrecy, and you must take reasonable steps under the circumstances to maintain the confidentiality.

If you can convince others to agree not to take your ideas, such as in a Non-Disclosure Agreement, Confidentiality Agreement, or Business Protection Agreement, that should protect the idea.  But without an agreement, it is the details which allow you to own the intellectual property, not just the broad idea.  

Ned T. Himmelrich
410-576-4171 • nhimmelrich@gfrlaw.com