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I often have ideas for a product or a company. Instead of resorting to intellectual property law and patents to protect my ideas, I'd like to encourage as many people and organizations as possible to make use of my ideas. As long as they cite and acknowledge me as the originator of the idea, they're allowed to employ them to create new products or write articles about it.

At the same time, I wish to prevent these other people and organizations from patenting my ideas. They can make use of it, but not keep the intellectual property to give themselves a competitive advantage. I'm therefore considering to license my ideas by means of a CC-BY or CC-BY SA license.

My question is: would either (or both) of these these creative commons licenses allow others to make use of my ideas for commercial purposes, while at the same time prevent them from appropriating my ideas by means of patents?

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Creative Commons licenses grant more or less limited permission to use works protected by copyright, the details demanding on the particular license selected. They can only grant or restrict permissions to the extent that copyright law permits. Ideas are not subject to copyright protection. If others learn an idea of yours, they are free to use it, including commercially, unless it is protected in some way other than a CC license.

Some ideas can be protected by a patent for a limited time. More exactly, inventions using that idea may be protected. Filing a patent application is complex, and involves fees and costs. To be successful, professional help is often needed. The requirements vary somewhat depending on the country involved.

If an idea has been published, that may hinder or prevent anyone gaining patent protection for inventions using that idea. If a document describing an idea is published under a CC license, that might help it to be considered as "prior art" if someone else wants to patent an invention based on the content, but it is the publication more than the license thsat will have this effect. It may help if the document carries a date of publication.

Ideas can also be protected as trade secrets, but this is not compatible with making them widely available for others to use.

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  • Thank you for your answer. A follow-up question: are there any particular types of publications that prevent anyone from gaining patent protection for inventions using that idea more often than other types of publications? – Max Muller Jan 30 at 16:14
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    @Max You will probably get a better answer on that on the Patent SE site. My understanding is that the type of publication does not matter much. What matters is how widely distributed the publication is, so that a person knowledgeable in the field is likely to see it or know of it. What also matters is how thoroughly and clearly the idea is described in the document. Patents are only granted for "novel" inventions. If a published document makes it clear that the idea is not novel, a patent is less likely. It also depends if the patent office knows of the publication. – David Siegel Jan 30 at 16:19
  • Something becomes as prior art by publication with enough detail to enable someone to make and use it. The OP's description of a "idea" might or might meet that standard. To have a good chance of stopping someone getting a patent is a practical question - is it where an examiner might look. Legally being prior art is a different topic. The canonical question on the patent bar exam requires you to know that a thesis in an obscure language filed in the library of an obscure university that has never been checked out is prior art if filed by subject but not if filed by last name. – George White Jan 30 at 18:46
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Ideas are not Intellectual Property

Literary and artistic works are (copyright is automatic) and inventions can be (if patented). Ideas are neither.

The only way to protect an idea is to keep it secret. If someone learns of your idea and turns it into a novel (copyright) or an actual machine for preventing button batteries from being swallowed by toddlers (patent) there is nothing you can do about it.

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Copyright protects specific expressions of ideas, not the ideas/inventions themselves - that is what patents are for.

If you put an invention in the public domain by publishing how to make and use your invention you can not then put strings on that invention. If you want people to be able to use it only if they credit you then you first need to own it - then you can provided it with whatever strings you like.

The very best way to prevent someone else from patenting your idea is to file an application yourself. Pay extra for early publication and then explicitly abandon it. Not just abandon the application but explicitly abandon the invention. The primary place examiners look for prior art is within patents and published patent applications.

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