I am an entrepreneur in San Francisco and am afraid to tell people about my business idea without ensuring that I'm legally protected first.

Before I begin it should be noted that you do not have a start-up company yet but a start-up idea. An idea itself cannot be protected under any intellectual property right. However, expressions of an idea can be protected, for example when they are artistic in nature, copyright could subsist. Examples of this include a painting, a poem, or a song. A business idea itself is not considered an artistic work. Therefore, it cannot be protected as a copyright, but once you start building the business, if it requires original coding then you could be copyright protected. The name under which a start-up proposes to trade could be registrable as a trademark, as another example. Similarly, if the business idea consists of producing an innovative product then there is a potential to file a patent.
You can protect your start-up in the following ways:
1. Use a nondisclosure agreement (NDA): In cases where the business idea itself cannot be protected by an intellectual property right, as is often the case, an NDA can be used to prevent others from sharing or benefitting from the idea. Developers, employees, and any others you share your idea with can be bound by an NDA. An NDA is a legal contract between two people that states what information will be shared between them and what information will not be shared with other people. Some entrepreneurs have a policy of getting everyone to sign an NDA including investors. Some investors consider this to be an unnecessary step, so it is advisable that you remain flexible when dealing with investors. They come across many ideas and their intention is not to copy the ideas, only to judge their suitability for investment.
2. Start building your business and obtain copyright protection: As with many tech start-ups, you will have to code it, which could attract copyright protection. If you are getting developers to do the work, then you can and should ask them to assign the copyright to you. Copyright protection arises automatically in most countries and it is important to keep all records evidencing creation/authorship so that the copyright can be verified. It is worth mentioning that open source frameworks and platforms (WordPress, Drupal etc.) are copyright of their creators and are available under specific creative licenses. If you to build any part of your start-up using such open source tools, you will not be protected under copyright laws.
3. File a patent application if possible: A patent protects new inventions. In the UK and the EU, computer software programs are generally not patentable. There are exceptions to this rule, but you must create a new method or process to obtain a patent. A software app or part of it may fulfil the necessary requirements to obtain patent protection. It is best to get advice from a patent attorney who can advise you on whether your tech start-up is patentable. If you are creating a new innovative product, then a patent is necessary so that you can financially exploit your product and stop others from making unauthorised use of it.
4. Register a trademark for your brand: It is incredibly common to see the names and brands of successful start-up ventures being used by others. Identical or similar names are considered trademark infringement in certain circumstances and registering these as trademarks, assuming they fulfil the requirement of distinctiveness. A trademark will make it easier to stop copycats in the markets you have filed your trademark in. You can trademark your name, logo, slogan and even a specific design. This is one important method of making sure your tech start-up is protected from being copied by others. Especially your branding.
Besides if you do have any questions give me a call:

Answered 10 months ago

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