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I have an idea I'd like to take to a company, but I don't know how to protect it.

The best analogy I can think of is the following (I fully realise this example exists; it's an analogy):

  • I want to approach a marketing company that has access to a drinks company, (or the company directly).
  • My idea is: to take the drinks company logo and put it on a pint glass.

So,

  • I can't protect the logo (it's not mine).
  • I can't protect the glass (it's not mine).
  • I can't protect the process of putting the logo on the glass (I don't have the tech, and something similar has been done - I wouldn't be doing the processing).

All I have is the idea.

Is it possible to protect the idea, to stop the company just using it please?

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I presume the goal is to get some compensation from the company for using your idea. Since you can't protect the elements of the product and IP law does not protect an idea, you can rely on basic contract law, whereby under the contract, the business is obligated to not use your idea (for some period of time) if they decide, initially, not to "buy" your idea (and what you give them, in return, is knowledge of the idea). You may need to get them to agree to this restriction first based on the promise of a great idea, before revealing the idea to them, since once you've told them the idea, they would not have any motivation to pay you or to refrain from using the idea.

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In practice, you could check what happens if you have a great idea to improve Apple's products, or their sales, or whatever else. They have an "unsolicited ideas submission policy" which you can find here;

https://www.apple.com/legal/intellectual-property/policies/ideas.html

Basically it says: If you have an idea, then we don't want it, don't send it to us. If you send it, it's ours, if we use it you won't get paid, we don't keep it confidential, and we don't look at it if we don't want to.

So the chances of making an exception for you and for Apple to sign a contract that would protect you are slim to non-existing.

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"Intellectual property is something unique that you physically create. An idea alone is not intellectual property. For example, an idea for a book doesn’t count, but the words you’ve written do" (from the UK government website). This is a universal principle: having ideas is not protectable (are you quite sure that nobody else has had the same idea, or ever will?)

So unless you have put some work into producing a specific implementation, your idea can be used by anybody who thinks of it.

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