How Do I Protect My Idea? Do I Need a Trademark or Copyright?

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You have a great idea for a t-shirt. How do you stop someone from making knock offs?

You have a concept for a dope event or workshop. How do you stop people from copying your event?

You wrote a song, took pictures, wrote an article. How do you stop people on the internet from stealing and reposting it without your permission or paying?

You just came up with an idea for an app or product you KNOW would sell. How do you get help building it and stop people from stealing it once they find out what you’re building?

Here’s the good & bad of protecting ideas and whether you need a copyright or a trademark to do it.

1. How do I protect my idea?

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Unfortunately YOU CANNOT PROTECT AN IDEA. You can only protect things that have actually been executed into a physical product: a picture, an event, a t-shirt, a video. Consider this. How many shows can you name that have 4 celebrity judges where regular people perform for an opportunity for stardom. American Idol? The Four? The Voice? idea can be recreated and remixed a million times. You cannot protect an actual idea.

So how do you protect your idea while you build your team or gather funds to actually execute it?

You can ask people who are going to potentially work on the project or fund it to sign a NDA or Non-Disclosure Agreement. What is important in any NDA you use is more than just holding the information in confidence but should specifically state the person cannot take the information they will get from you and use it for profit.

So now you’ve executed the idea into a real event, real product, real service. Which do you need? Is it a trademark or a copyright you need?

You need a trademark when…

You want to protect a NAME, LOGO, STYLE ELEMENT or a product.

Registering your trademark gives you protection under the law to enforce your rights against someone who tries to imitate your brand. A trademark is what distinguishes your brand/product/services from another on the market. Trademarks of your company can include the company logo, any phrases or slogans, color schemes or fonts that you use to create the visual portion of your brand. Until you register your trademarks YOU HAVE NO WAY TO FIGHT COPYCATS. As a new business owner you can often get statewide trademark protection for multiple years for less than $20.  Making a small investment in protecting your brand at the start will pay dividends against imitators who will try to jump aboard and imitate your idea. Federal Trademark registration protects your brand AROUND THE WORLD and should only be done with an experienced trademark attorney and can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000 but is well worth it especially if your brand is becoming nationally pro[ula

But you need a copyright when..

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Copyright protects the actual content you create which includes your website, workshop worksheets, blog posts, screenplay, photos, etc.

Again, until you actually register your work with the US Copyright office you have NO WAY TO FIGHT CONTENT THIEVES from reposting and reusing your work. You can register your copyright in less than 30 minutes for less than $60. You CAN also stop your content from being stolen using DMCA protections, disabling text selection (get the HTML code to disable copy & paste in my downloadable guide!) , and tools like Google Author!