Determining whether your great business idea is taken or not, will require more than a simple Google search or a trip to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. You have to be prepared to hire an attorney so that you have all your bases covered.
Mark Twain once said something that had me wondering for years. He said that “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”
How does this quote relate to business ideas and businesses in general? While what Mark Twain once said can be considered true and valid, if your business idea will resemble too much one that has previously been patented or trademarked, the business you plan on launching may fail before it actually takes off.
The good news is that the Internet is a great source that provides countless tools which can help you determine whether your business idea has already been used, taken or done before. Despite the fact that a certain service or product may already exist, that does not mean that you shouldn’t use your business idea altogether to create something outstanding. After all, some people believe that it doesn’t really matter if it already exists, but how it can be improved or done better.
In most cases, the first thing future business owners and entrepreneurs will do with their business idea is browse the internet. Despite the fact that the Google search might not show you each business idea that has been protected, the search is conducted so as to see the target market for your business idea. If you see that an established company is already providing your potential clients within your future target market with the same product derived from your business idea, it is mandatory for you to provide the product or service in a unique manner so as to ensure that your competitor’s customers will jump ship and choose what you provide over your established competitor.
If you think about it, Google is a prime example of a company with a business idea that had previously been done. You probably don’t know this, but when Google first started back in 1998, there were quite a handful of already existing search engines. In time, by delivering information in a straightforward and simple way to search the World Wide Web, almost every computer in the world was using it. And the main thing that set Google apart from other search engines was that the results it provided were the most accurate ones. By adopting a different approach, Google has managed to set itself apart from the competitors and put them in the front seat in an already oversaturated market. Currently, a lot of companies are looking to improve what Google is providing to its users. And that’s normal given the fact that the cycle may run endlessly.
Often entrepreneurs have a hard time finding the best way to protect their business ideas, afraid that someone will eventually steal them. Of course, the best way of keeping them safe is not by locking them in a vault, but rather by keeping them a secret. The first instinct of a future business owner or an entrepreneur after he or she comes up with a great business idea is to start bragging about it, holding brainstorming sessions or even intervene in conversations only to let people know how great they are and what they’ve managed to create. From what I’ve seen and heard during my then years, there is no good reason to disclose information about your business ideas. A great thing you should take into account is asking your lawyer to draw up a Confidentiality Agreement which helps protect your business idea.
For many, the business world resembles a jungle. You don’t know who to trust and with whom you can share delicate information about your business idea or information about your future products or services. Consider whether there is a competitor who would actually benefit from stealing your amazing idea, a potential customer who can benefit from the product or the idea, or even a partner whose own company would benefit from your business idea. One of the most common mistakes you could make is not regarding the interests of your potential competitors.
When you go visit the United States Patent and Trademark Office to try and find out whether your products or services derived from your business ideas have been trademarked or patented, you need to brace yourself with a good dose of patience. This is not a simple process by any means. It’s not like typing a few words in a search engine. Patents are classified by “marks” with unique features or items present in the system so as to differentiate them from others. Furthermore, to complicate things even more, the rights of a business to a mark can only be established by the company using the aforementioned mark. In layman’s terms, a product or item similar to yours may already be protected without being included in the USPTO database.
Some of the startup entrepreneurs or business owners I’ve had the pleasure to meet, have told me that working closely with an attorney who knows the ins and outs of patents and trademarks is the best way to go. However, you need to be aware that you have to put aside some of your resources because this type of lawyer will cost you a pretty penny. On the flip side, you are now able to turn the process over to someone who knows everything there is to know about patents and trademarks. The lawyer will be able to do most of the work on your behalf. He or she is able to conduct the thorough search to find if a specific trademark exists and file the necessary paperwork to ensure that your business idea is protected.
After finding that you are 100 percent able to start your company, the first thing to do is protect your business idea. You need to bear in mind that securing a patent can be a costly process. Don’t worry, the USPTO can provide a provisional patent to offer new companies the opportunities to get started. This provisional patent allows a business a year of protection as the company puts the idea in motion. Also, within that specific year, you must file a nonprovisional application. After submitting the paperwork for the provisional patent, your company is able to use the phrase “patent pending” on websites and printed materials, places where your products and/or services are mentioned. However, take into consideration this type of patent will not offer full protection for your business idea.
The best advice I could offer you in case you have an awesome idea and considering of launching your company, is to start developing your service or product before actually filing your application, and having each creating stage of the invention described in detail. If you file a vague patent, any potential competitors could argue that the idea was not clearly described before the patent was filed. The risk of this is that if a company will file a patent that describes a similar or identical idea in a clear manner and has a product or service ready to launch in the market, you could be dragged to court for a product liability lawsuit and potentially lose even though you had already filed a provisional patent for that idea.
Considering the fact that, at a first sight, concepts may appear similar on the surface, businesses need to carefully document the development process.