If you use a crowd funding site, can your ideas be stolen?

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If you use a crowd funding site, can your ideas be stolen?

Could someone get a patent or copyright on your ideas? What kind of information is safe to place on a site like kickstarter? For example, I need funds to hire someone to write an app (hire a freelancer) but would not want someone to steal the idea. That is just one of my ideas from invations, apps, and more……….

Asked on December 16, 2014 under Business Law, Virginia

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

Ideas cannot be protected. Original content (e.g. pictures, text, etc.) can be copyrighted, but that's only the specific content, not the idea. (E.g. Marvel comics can protect, by copyright and also trademark [see below] it's version of "Thor," but it can't stop people from writing about their own versions of "Thor" that don't use Marvel's character or content). Similarly, you can protect a name, a logo, a graphic, etc. which is used to identify your goods or services as a trademark. And you can patent an actual invention or process, if there is enough detail to make it "real" and practical, though there is no proctection until you've gone through the patent process, which costs thousands of dollars and can take months or years.

But ideas? Ideas are not patentable. So, an example, you have an idea for an app that will answer legal questions. If you have a catchy name or logo, you can trademark the name or logo. If there is a new search algorythm or technique you create to come up the answer, you could patent it. The specific code written for the app can be copyrighted. But the idea of a legal-question-answering app? That can't be protected, and someone else could take the idea and run with it.

What you can do is have individual people you work with (e.g. a designer or coder) sign non-disclosure/confidentiality agreements that they will not disclose the idea, or develop it for themselves, etc. But anyone you disclose the idea to, such as through crowd funding, who has not signed that agreement is free to take the idea.


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