Ideas in themselves are not patentable.
Patents are for inventions and there are several constraints to what an invention is. An invention must represent something that is new as compared to the state of the art.
For instance, the first Walkman from Sony was not patentable. Basically it was a small radio receiver / tape player with earphone. In this case, nothing was an "invention". The idea of the early "Walkman" was an innovation, not an invention, and hence was not patentable.
One big trap with an invention is that if someone knows about it, especially if your invention was published, it is no longer patentable, because the invention no longer brings anything new to the state of the art.
Another big trap is that a patent is published. Hence you loose the "know-how" and "secrets" related to your invention. Your competitors could go faster than you. Patenting an invention worldwide costs a lot and even if you did it, you will need way more money to monitor the market and protect your invention with legal actions.
For the small inventor, it is usually more efficient patenting in one country and selecting the provisional (1 year valid) extension for patenting woldwide.
During this year, try to find a business partner or buyer of your invention that has the financial strength to conduct legal actions.
When something is not an invention, a good alternative to patents are trademarks and registered brands. The "Walkman" is an excellent example how brands can sometimes be more efficient than a patent. At the early age of portable tape players, people were going to electronic shops telling things like "I would like to purchase a Walkman for my grandson ...". Indirectly, they were asking the Sony product, although other manufacturers like Toshiba had entered the competition with similar devices.
Another alternative for a product is registered industrial design.
For example, folding scooters are not patentable. Basically the idea is a trotinette with a hinge. Nothing that the state of the art doesn't know. Hence not an invention.
In such as case, a solution can be to protect a specific part, like the hinge fixing mechanism, with a registered design if you know that your design is better than the alternative solutions that possible competitors could find.
One simple and low cost technique to protect your idea, is to send it to yourself in a closed envelope (eg. the plans of your design, a CD containing the code of your software, a.s.o.) that you won't open. Make sure than the postage stamp is well visible and use some technique that certifies that the envelope has not been opened.
It doesn't protect your "invention" in itself, but if one of your possible "partners" tries to steal your invention, registers patent or design, or steal the code of your software you can prove that the paternity is anterior and yours. (The envelope must be opened by a judge.)
You can also deposit your documents to a notary, but it will cost more.
Or apply both techniques.
National intellectual property offices often have good documentation about intellectual property. I would suggest visiting the What is a patent? page by the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property.
I would also suggest that you visit the Wipo's site.