1. Protect your idea.
Is your idea patentable? Some things can be patented, some things cannot. Figure out if yours can be, then take the initial steps toward a patent. At the early stages, you can do some of the legwork on your own. Visit http://www.uspto.gov/ and learn about patents. If you are in Canada, replace my references to the USPTO with CIPO at http://cipo.gc.ca/. If you are in another country, you should be able to Google the words "Patent office" and your country name to find the appropriate link for your location.
I also recently discovered Google can provide some help in this department. (Maybe just USPTO?) Go to http://www.google.com/ and in the upper left corner you will see:
Images Maps News Shopping Gmail MoreClick More and at the bottom of the list click Even More.
Holy smokes! Did you know all this information was packed away in Google? About 2/3 of the way down the left side of the list is a link to search for patents. As I told my friend, if patent searching has been "Googlesized," it's probably been made a lot easier to use than the gov website. (Sorry, Uncle Sam!)
One caveat: Doing a patent search does not replace professional assistance when you are ready to move forward and apply for a patent. Read through (or have someone help you read through) the information at http://www.uspto.gov/ to find out how to apply and to learn the US Patent Office's recommendation regarding hiring a patent lawyer.
Oh, and if you think your idea can't be patented and don't want to take the time to look into it, check out this patent. Now you see why it's at least worth a look?
2. Name your idea.
If you create it, it's an entity. If it's an entity, it has to have a name. This isn't a law, but a piece of savvy marketing advice. Name all products, designs, concepts, sales, programs, etc.
When coming up with names for your creations, make sure they can be trademarked. This means, make sure you can trademark the name(s) that you come up with. From a marketing standpoint, your trademarks can help build your brand, develop name recognition, and do all kinds of other good things for your business.
I won't go into too much more detail here about trademarks, but if you want more info, please read my earlier blog post on the subject: Do you have a ™ ?
3. Copyright your process.
Write up, in as much detail as possible, your idea, concept, or product. Include drawings or photographs if possible. Explain how it's made, what it's made from, and any process or technique used to make your item. Describe its use, features, benefits, accessories, and care/maintenance.
Copyright this very thorough description (see the USPTO "copyright refresher" for details), then store it in a secure location. This will not only flesh out your idea and help you figure out some of the details, but can be the document to which you refer when you're writing up your product description, use and care guide, and marketing materials. This will also serve as a back up to your idea as you work though the other steps.
You can also visit http://creativecommons.org/ for more info on copyrights. Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that (as this is written) covers 50 jurisdictions around the globe.
Tip: While an official copyright is recommended, there is another method you can do in the interim to establish a beginning date for your idea. Name this document you just created, and include a serial number with the name. You can make up anything you want for the serial number. For example, "Three Speed Hair Curlers, serial # 52648912"
Take this document to a Notary Public, have them notarize it with the current date, and in their ledger, write the name and serial number of the notarized document. (In my ficticious case, I'd write "Three Speed Hair Curlers, serial # 52648912") Make sure the serial number is included in the Notary's ledger.
Why? If someone takes your exact idea and uses it as their own, your notarized copy can help to establish when the idea originated, what the idea entails, and who came up with the idea. The serial number in the title links the notarized copy to the same exact copy you hold, which can help to identify your copy as the original, and not a different version of the same idea.
Hope that helps you get started. Any additional tips or suggestions? Have you had any experience with this process? Please share!
(And remember, all comments are do-follow, so your comment left here supports YOU.)