How to Protect an Idea

how to protect an ideaIdeas, while they abound and spring forth from our imagination, are not legally regarded as physical ‘things’. As a result, there are only really two ways to go abou it if you are wanting to find out how to protect an idea: You can keep them a secret, or you can develop a product that results from the idea in secret.

If you can distribute the product without anyone else knowing what exactly is in it, and create a brand the product that is successful, you may be able to build a business this way. A lot of recipe based businesses like Kentucky Fried Chicken’s special spices and Coca Cola’s recipe for coke are regarded trade secrets and haven’t had been legally protected in any other manner.

There are different ways to protect products of ideas if that is your goal.

How To Protect an Idea With Patenting

Patenting is for inventions that are not only new but also not obvious to the average person in the field. The more common patents are:

  1. Method patents, which detail a way of doing something that is unique;
  2. Utility patents which patents the actual object in all of its detail;
  3. Design patents are less common, and protect the outward appearance of an object or device. A good example of an item that gets a design patent would be a new style of baby bottle that does not function differently from the standard baby bottle but has a special grip.
  4. The truth is, in the US at least, you cannot protect an idea in ethereal form. That’s not what patenting, trade secret and copyright are about. What they are about is protecting the physical or conceptual applications of those ideas. Ideas cannot legally be protected through the patenting process or any other. It is considered anticompetitive and counterproductive to society.

There are, however, multiple ways to protect the work related to your ideas. If you are wanting to know how to protect an idea then the best way is to develop the idea into the application of that idea. The patent system allows you to protect novel and non-obvious inventions that come from your ideas. There are three types of patents.

A Few More Details About Patents

Utility patents: Provide protection for machines, compositions, methods or processes and things you make that are novel. Computers, some biotechnology and pharmaceutical products, even a creatively made pulley or a special way of taking medication in a given order could qualify.

Design patents: for items where what they are made of is generally known, but the overall presentation is unique. A baby bottle that has a specific bottom that prevents it from falling over during use would qualify.

Plant Patents: Plant patents are for asexually reproducing plants. Plant patents protect the genetics and specifics of plants. Some of the genetically enhanced plant products fall under this category, like bacteria resistant grain.


Copyright allows for long term protection of artistic endeavors, especially combinations of words and sounds. The terms for which copyright can be renewed are up to 2 terms for periods of 28 years. Previously copyright ran for 100 years or so, but a court decision ended the longer time period.


Trademark protection is for images associated with a brand. Trademarks often include symbols combined with words and colors, like the unique packaging orange combined with shapes and the word Tide used by Tide detergent.

In Conclusion

How to protect an idea requires taking that idea and conceptualizing it or making it into something tangible. Use a combination of patenting, copyrighting, trademarking to do that. Also consider keeping the idea as a trade secret, which prevents you having to reveal it in any form to the public at large.