I was recently in Sports Authority talking with the cashier about a new product. She exclaimed, “Wow, that’s really cool that you did this. How did you do it? I’ve had ideas, but, well you know…here I am.”
As I listened to her, I questioned within what would be the right answers for her, a person like many others who have that entrepreneur spirit within them. Start by testing your idea with your family, friends and then those in the relevant product or service market. Ask, does your idea fill a need or provide a solution that people are looking for? If yes, then the first step is your intellectual property protection. This comes in three forms: a trademark; a domain name; and a patent.
Decide what name will identify your brand. Go to www.uspto.gov and you can run a basic trademark search. A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, color, sound or design, or combination thereof, which identifies and distinguishes the source of goods or services of one party from those of others. A service mark is the same as a trademark except that it identifies and distinguishes the source of the service rather than a product. Be aware, however, that even if your exact trademark is not taken, some other holder of a registered mark might have an issue if your desired mark is confusingly similar. You should consult with an experienced trademark law attorney.
Once you have your trademark/name selected, the next step is to similarly search and register your domain name. The Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, 15 U.S.C. Section 1125, protects against registration of any domain name that is similar to another’s trademark and is registered with a bad faith intent to profit. It is especially important to lock down your Internet domain name for your business’s website. Again, if you have any question about the interplay between your selected domain name and another’s registered trademark, which is also likely a registered domain name and used in a website, consult with an attorney experienced in this specialized area of the law.
Is your idea worthy of a patent? A patent for an invention is a grant by the United States Patent and Trademark Office to the inventor of the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, selling or importing the claimed invention. 35 U.S.C. Section 1 et seq. To be patentable, an invention must be novel, non-obvious and useful. Every patent contains one or more “claims,” which are precisely drafted, defining the scope of the patented invention, and the legal protection that the patent affords. Patent protection begins on the date of issuance of the patent, and ends 20 years after the date of application for the patent in the case of “utility patents” and 14 years after the date of the grant of the patent for “design patents.” Plan to spend $5,000+ and 18 months+ to obtain the issuance of your patent.
You will also need to write up a business plan – – both for yourself and to provide to investors. A thorough plan will include: executive summary; company overview; mission statement; market need; product description; SKU’s; pricing; market plan; market size analysis; customer characteristics; competition; demand forecast and market share; operations; corporate structure; product development; supply chain; regulations; insurance; distribution chain; E-Commerce; advertising; fulfillment and shipping; launch schedule; financial analysis; start-up costs; financing requirements; production costs; and pro forma financial projection.
Carrying out the above first steps is vital to your idea becoming a reality. You can expect disappointments and rejections along the way. However, stay the course, be persistent and do not give up.