PROTECTING INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY
Many people have great ideas for businesses or consumers. These can be brand new inventions, new uses for existing products, combinations of existing products, etc. Getting paid for our ideas or inventions (intellectual property) means protecting them.
If you have a great idea for a new product, first make sure it’s truly original. The US patent office (www.uspto.gov) has an online database which can be searched for similar patents to see if someone else has thought of your idea first. Remember, you can’t patent it if it has already been done. With certain types of patents, it can be difficult to do this sort of search on your own; a reputable patent attorney will usually charge $750 to $1000 for a comprehensive search. Attorneys can also work with you, if portions of your idea/product have already been patented, to isolate the parts you can still patent. This can also help you to identify which companies might be most interested in your patent; namely, those with similar patents or products that might be complemented by purchasing yours.
Once you’ve determined your idea is original, the safest way to present it to others is to patent it yourself and then either sell the patent or license’ the rights to the patent to your target company. Patents can start at $3,000-$4,000 and go up from there depending on the complexity of the patent. While this might seem like an expensive cost, remember that if your idea is not patented, it can be stolen even if you did come up with it first. If you can’t patent your idea, you may still be able to negotiate compensation from the company who learns it from you, but you are subjecting yourself to their generosity. There are also companies out there (www.davison.com) which will help inventors create prototypes of their products, get them patented, and market them to the appropriate company.
Books, movies, songs, and other media content are also intellectual property, but fall into the realm of copyright law rather than patent law. Be cautious when posting your material on others’ websites; read the fine print in the user agreements as you may be giving away more of your rights than you realize. Some sites are licensing your material with the ability to relicense it to others, but other sites are purchasing your material outright, so that it becomes theirs exclusively.
Note: When you are an employee of any company, intellectual property you create while working for that company may belong to them! Read your employment contract carefully to see if this is the case.