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Protect Your Great Ideas for Free!
Free Steps for Protecting the Valuable Ideas Generated by Every Business Owner, Entrepreneur, Inventor, Author, and Artist
By J. Nevin Shaffer Jr., Ellen Falk
Maximum Press Copyright © 2007 J. Nevin Shaffer, Jr.
All rights reserved.
But I Don't Have Any Great Ideas Worth Protecting — Or Do I?
In this chapter you will discover that pretty much every living person, and some dead ones, have protectable ideas! People in business, inventors, software developers — all of these people have ideas, some of them great! Don't be surprised if you see yourself in most, if not all, of the types of idea generators discussed in this chapter.
Everyone Has Ideas ... Period!
Are you in business? Have you ever made something to solve a problem because you couldn't find it at WAL-MART? Have you ever written a poem or drawn a picture? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you have ideas. Your ideas are the gold from your mind, your "intellectual property." Unless you are a total slug and have never done anything in your entire life, you have intellectual property. Everyone does! And chances are, some (perhaps a great deal) of your intellectual property is well worth protecting — even if you don't realize it yet (and many don't until it's too late). It's a shame that more people don't realize how easy and inexpensive it is to protect their great ideas. What you will learn in this book is what kind of intellectual property your great idea represents and the steps you can take to protect your great idea for free!
Why Should You Protect Your Ideas Anyway?
What is the point in protecting your great idea? The simple answer is that your ideas are what make you money and/or keep you in business! The more you protect your ideas, the longer you can stay in business; and the longer you stay in business, the more valuable your ideas become! I have heard it said that we are now in the "information age," and in this "high-tech," Internet-connected age what is important are ideas! It's no longer "bricks and mortar" buildings that are important but rather the new ideas a business has, and must have, to stay in business in today's twenty-first-century global market! Well, excuse me if I pour a little water on that campfire. In my opinion, no matter what the century, it has always been the person or business with the new idea that has set the pace! How would you like to have cornered the market on that "wheel" invention way back when? Anyway, then and now, ideas rule. Because that is true, a prudent plan for people with ideas includes taking steps to protect a new idea as soon as possible. How sad would it be if you lost your great idea because you didn't know how to protect it from day one? Trust me: it is a sad thing to see. I have had to give many clients over the years the bad news about how they had lost their idea to the public because of the things they did before they came to me. The even sadder part is that they could have protected their idea for free, if they had only known how.
I was going to war. Really. I was the engineering officer on the USS Gallup (Figure 1.1), and as we steamed out of port in Guam on the first leg of the long trip to Vietnam, I had the "conn." In navy talk, this means I was the officer in charge of where the ship went. The captain had gone below, and I was in charge of the lead ship in a group of three. The Gallup set the course and the others followed. It was my first trip to Vietnam on a gunboat and we had a long way to go, but already I was nervous. I am going to WAR is what kept going around in my mind. Anyway, all of a sudden I was pitched forward against the window glass as the Gallup came to a screeching stop — or at least as close to a screeching stop as you can get with a ship. Being the new guy, my first thought was "Uh oh! What did I touch?" I looked around the bridge. No one said anything, and no one had a clue what had happened. In the meantime, the other two ships sailed on by, leaving us wallowing in their combined wake, their crews waving happily in response to our misfortune, whatever it was. Well, the captain called the bridge and asked in a very rude manner what was going on. I said I didn't know. That didn't help things much, and he suggested quite rudely that I, as engineering officer, inquire about why "his" ship had stopped moving. So I called the engine room and asked rudely (think stuff flowing downhill) why we had stopped. There was a short pause, and then they said, "Doc caught a fish!" Doc was Frank Martin Ivey (Dr. Ivey — What a great name for a doctor!), the squadron medical officer and an avid fisherman. While I was fretting about going to war, he had set up his lawn chair on the fantail and gone fishing! He caught a dolphin (the fish kind), and then yelled down the hatch to the engine room, "Stop the boat! I caught a fish!" and they did! When I told him what had happened, the captain said, "Oh, well, when he gets it in, catch up to the other guys." And I thought, now that's power! That's leverage! No one in the Navy ever messed with the medical officers; likewise, no one will mess with your great idea once you have done what I advise! You will have "legal leverage" after you have protected your great idea for free. Let's start by looking at where these ideas come from.
The Overlooked Protectable Ideas in Every Business
The president of a Pensacola business group asked me what I did, and I told him I was in the protection business. "What kind of protection do you provide for businesses?" he asked. I said, "I help businesses identify and protect their intellectual property — you know, patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets." "Oh," he said. "We don't have any of that here."
The fact is, if you are in business — even in sunny, scenic Pensacola, Florida (the paradise of the universe, as far as I am concerned!) — you do have intellectual property, even if you think you don't. For example, if you sell anything — goods or services — you call the things or the services you sell something, don't you? Well, the words, symbols, and slogans you use to identify and distinguish your things from all the other similar things being sold are your trademarks. And, surprise, your great ideas for your trademarks are valuable intellectual property! Figure 1.2 shows one familiar example of a trademark, the APPLE Computer logo.
Or have you ever had a great idea for an ad and created an original ad for the thing you are selling? Well, guess what. Original works of authorship, i.e., advertisements, software, and such, are protected by copyrights, and copyrights are also valuable intellectual property! Figure 1.3 shows an example of copyrighted software, offered by the MICROSOFT Company on its Web site.
Or does your business have a list of customers or material providers or assembly tricks or great pricing strategies that only you and your employees know about? Watch out! These "secrets" may not be rocket science, but they are trade secrets, and (can you guess?) trade secrets constitute even more valuable intellectual property that you or your business own! Figure 1.4 illustrates two of the most famous owners of trade secrets (ingredients, in this case): COCA-COLA and KFC.
The take-home point here is, again, if you are in business, your great business ideas are valuable intellectual property. You may have overlooked your intellectual property up until now because you didn't know you had it. Now that you know your great ideas are valuable intellectual property, however, you will learn in Chapter 2 how to protect your business ideas so that you don't lose them.
Inventors Have Protectable Ideas Too!
"Turn it off, Jack, the pig's turning blue!" These are the immortal words spoken to Jack Cover, inventor of the Taser nonlethal weapon, also called a "stun gun," during an early test of his patented invention. The rest is history!
Not every inventor has a business, and not every business has inventors. Nonetheless, if you have ever faced a problem, were unable to solve it with the resources readily available to you, and then had an idea as to how to solve it yourself, you are an inventor! Even if you just put together part A from RADIO SHACK and part B from TOYS-R-US, it is still an invention and you are an inventor. So now what? Well, if your great idea for an invention is useful and new, and not just an improvement that anyone could have done to solve the problem, then your great idea is protectable by a patent!
A patented invention is very powerful intellectual property in its own right, but inventors also have other intellectual property. Thomas Edison kept all of his failed light bulbs because he said they represented a thousand great ideas he knew for sure would not work. Kept confidential, an inventor's failures are trade secrets that may be worth more than the final invention! Obviously, many businesses have been founded on patentable great ideas, but inventors have lots of intellectual property even without having patents.
Knowing you are an inventor is the first step! Knowing what to do to protect your great idea is the next! You will learn what inventors must do to protect their great ideas in Chapter 3.
What About Authors and Artists? Do They Have Protectable Ideas?
My son's fourth-grade class wrote a book about Hurricane Ivan. Each student contributed to the short story and drew a picture about the hurricane. The book, When the Hurricane Blew (see Figure 1.5), is now available at BARNES & NOBLE and AMAZON.com, and my son, Nevie, has met the governor of Florida and had several book signings! The book is a big success! Since he was little, I have told Nevie that every original work of art and authorship that he creates is protectable by copyright, but I never thought he would beat me to the market with a book of his own!
Here is the point. It does not matter how old or young you are; if you have a great idea and create an original work of art or write an original software program, story, poem, song, movie, or ad, you have created valuable copyright intellectual property. You are an artist, an author, and an intellectual property owner! The question is, will you take steps to protect your great idea or not? You will learn what authors and artists must do to protect their great ideas in Chapter 4.
Ignorance Is Not Bliss!
It's hot in any engine room, but it is really hot in the engine room of a ship sailing during the summer in the South China Sea. I know because I was there as the engineering officer on that patrol gunboat I mentioned earlier. The good news was that as we patrolled the Vietnamese coast, we were always running over stuff — fishing nets, lines, and things. It was good news because it gave me an excuse to tell the captain, "Strange noise in the reduction gear. I'd better check it out!" Most of the time the captain would say OK, and two of us would get to scuba-dive around for a half an hour or so, pulling stuff off and banging on the bottom of the boat and generally having a good time, while everyone else sweated it out topside. There was usually plenty of sea life swimming with us too, including these cute little sea snakes. Now I knew that snakes were more afraid of me than I was of them, and I never gave them a thought until one day we exchanged magazines with another ship. The National Geographic article I read explained that the sea snakes common to the South China Sea were the deadliest snakes in the world, and the only reason people weren't killed all the time was because they have little mouths! Well, that ended my goofing off in a hurry because I knew it would be just my luck to run into some big-mouthed snake! After that I let the navy divers clean the bottom whenever we got into port, no matter how much stuff we were dragging around!
Here's the point: Ignorance is not bliss, because you could die from it! If you read this book, you will learn what kinds of little things can kill your great idea. You will also learn how to protect your great idea for free, and once you have taken the steps to protect your great idea, something neat happens. You have even more options on how to maximize the value of your great idea and how to end threats to your idea. Your idea won't die — it will thrive!CHAPTER 2
Free Protection for Your Great Business Ideas
Business is where it's at in the United States. It's what we do, and it's the reason a discussion of business ideas is the primary focus of this book. In this chapter you will come to understand that virtually every business is an idea-generating machine and that there are many overlapping ways to protect the great ideas that come out of every successful business, some of which can be done for free!
Every Business Has Ideas — Are They Protected?
You should read this if you are a small, medium, or large business owner and have not memorized your intellectual property lawyer's phone number. If you thought intellectual property was only for rocket scientists or computer nerds, this chapter is for you. If you were too busy building your business to pay attention to the details of protecting your great business ideas, read on! This chapter will review the intellectual property assets every business has and explain how to evaluate them and what to do to protect them from your competitors. Finally, as the title of the book suggests, each idea that you choose to protect can and should be protected for free, at least to start with. Learn how now!
What Is a Brand, and Why Should You Care?
Whatever business you are in, you call yourself something and you sell something, either goods or services. Typically, the company name reflects the product sold. The COCA-COLA Company owns the trademark COCA-COLA, for example. This simplifies things, I suppose, but it is not a requirement for doing business. Many company names have nothing to do with the thing they are selling. Procter & Gamble sells no "Procter" this or "Gamble" that, but they have lots and lots of words, symbols, and slogans they do use as their marks of trade. Remember, the people you are trying to sell to use trademarks to help them identify and distinguish competing products and services by price, quality, origin, and source. Therefore, for the people who buy from you, the trademarks, or brands, your business adopts become the repository of all the data about your product or service in a single word, symbol, or slogan. That sounds important. Is it?
A Shortcut to Other People's Money
When our daughter, Ellen, was very young, not more than two or three years old, I had her strapped in a bucket in the back seat of my car while driving around Austin, Texas. I was fantasizing how much fun it would be when she grew up and I started buying her prom dresses and giving her an allowance and stuff. (Hey, don't ask me why I would fantasize about that! I was a demented new dad!) Anyway, all of a sudden out of the back seat comes this little voice screaming, "Fries! Fries! Fries!" Can you guess what hallowed symbol of American commerce she had seen? That is correct — the golden arches themselves! Now think about that for a second. I had, essentially, an alien life-form strapped in the back seat of my car that could not read, write, or speak very much English, and she was telling me how to spend my money! Now that is powerful stuff. Don't you want something like that? The truth is, behind trademark attorneys' authentic lawyer gibberish, trademarks are the shortcuts people use to give you their money. They are the shortcuts you use to give other people your money. When you want a DIET COKE, you do not read the label; you do not even read the words. You take the silver can with the red stripe and put the 50 cents on the counter and you are out the door. You are a busy businessman/ woman with great ideas!
A shortcut that people use to give you their money. A shortcut to other people's money. A shortcut to money! Now that sounds like you're on to something, doesn't it?
What Is the Value of a Brand?
Assuming you agree with me that a shortcut to other people's money sounds like a good thing, you might be surprised to learn that brands also have a value of their own! It's true. Let's suppose "money is no object" (words, by the way, you should never say to a lawyer) and you wanted to buy the COCA-COLA Company. Well, you would have to write a check for around $70 billion dollars for the capital equipment, buildings, and such. But if you also wanted the two words COCA-COLA, you would have to write a second check for about $102 billion dollars! But, hey, money is no object, right? The point is that, in this case, the brand is more valuable than the company itself. How cool is that!
Excerpted from Protect Your Great Ideas for Free! by J. Nevin Shaffer Jr., Ellen Falk. Copyright © 2007 J. Nevin Shaffer, Jr.. Excerpted by permission of Maximum Press.
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