I'm looking to get clarity on the bounds of copyright law as it relates to a coaching methodology and fair use. I understand that "an idea is not copyrightable only the expression of that idea is." For example, if I come up with a coaching formula (y = mx + b) as it relates to personal development. Does my formula fall under the protection of "expression of an idea"? Similarly, what about ancillary terms that I also espouse as part of my coaching method that are fairly unique (ie: "Multi-Track Metrics" or "Minimum Viable Increment") -- are these protected as well? Thanks!

(I'm a small biz attorney who helps people with copyright, trademark, and other IP law, and I'm answering per U.S. law.)

As soon as you take your idea and put it into a tangible format (write it down, create an infographic, record a video), then that writing/infographic/video is automatically protected by copyright law. You can record the copyright on it too, which makes it easier to protect and get damages from other people taking it.

But the formula itself would be probably protected under trade secret law or patent law. Patent law obviously takes a bit more effort, because you have to apply for the patent and get your application examined by the USPTO, which takes years and $$$. Keeping it protected under trade secret law means you have to make an effort to keep it secret (which may not work if you are disclosing it as part of your marketing efforts), such as keeping it confidential and requiring NDAs.

As someone else said, the other terms you use might be protected under trademark law. If a member of the public would use those terms to link your products/services with the source of the product/service (aka, your company), then they could be trademark-able. There are some state law protections for trademarks, and you can also file to register the trademark with the USPTO and get more protection.

Hope that gets your started!

Answered 7 years ago

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