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The world is full of amazing ideas. Humanity is gifted with a seemingly endless desire to create, and these creations take every form imaginable, from the written word to music to machines to furniture. Unfortunately, most people these days don’t know what to do with their wonderful ideas because the process has become a bit opaque, and really depends on what kind of idea or thing you have. Here is a short guide illustrating where to start.

If You Have a Logo or Name

This is probably the easiest of the three types of ideas that you can make exclusively yours. Usually, people who have started a business and don’t want anyone else claiming their business name, logo or catchphrase file what is called a trademark claim. Trademarking prevents another person or business entity from claiming the same or even similar idea for their own, especially in the region of the country in which the business operates or plans to operate. For example, everyone knows of the Bounty brand of kitchen paper towels – but not everyone is aware of their slogan “The Quicker Picker-Upper” – or that this slogan is actually trademarked by Bounty. No one else can use this phrase for business purposes, and if someone tried, Bounty would likely sue, and be within their rights to do so. If you want to trademark your business name, logo or slogan, go to the United States Patent Office website and fill out the form. It costs around $350 dollars and often takes less than an hour.

If You Have an Object or Software

The process for patenting a physical invention or type of software takes the longest time and is the most expensive. The costs are typically only a few hundred dollars for the initial application, but the major expenses are mostly from hiring a patent lawyer to help you with patent drafting. The process takes an enormous amount of legal expertise and is not something most people can handle on their own. It can also take several years, depending on the complexity and type of patent applied for which you apply. The three types of patents are utility, design and plant patents, which are used if you have created a new plant hybrid. If you wish to market your invention internationally, you can also apply for an international patent as well.

If You Have a Book or Photograph

You cannot trademark or patent photos or the printed word. In order to protect your work, you must file for a copyright, and there are two ways to go about this, the official and unofficial methods. To be safe on the safe side, you can do both. The first is called a “poor man’s copyright” and simply means that you make a copy of your work and mail it to yourself, and then keep the unopened package or letter in a safe place. The postage provides a legal date that could possibly be used as evidence in a court of law to show that you wrote the material before someone else, if such a fact is ever disputed. However – and this is important – a “poor man’s copyright” does not take the place of registering your work, and although the date may be provable, your claim will likely be unenforceable. Therefore it is always necessary to register your work with the United States Library of Congress, which is the official method of copy writing materials. Again, you can accomplish this easily online at www.copyright.gov, and the costs are minimal.

As you can see, if you have a great idea there are several ways to go about ensuring that you have exclusive legal claim to it. Plan, prepare, and be diligent, so that you can safely and legally share your amazing idea with the world as soon as possible. Who knows? You just might go down in history as a world-changer!