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Protecting Ideas To Prevent Theft

by Stella Tryon

In the information society, good ideas are worth real money. But how can you protect them?

The ownership of “personal intellectual creations” is automatically protected. However, you cannot register a business idea as a patent or trademark. Even copyright cannot be asserted on an idea.

A single, seemingly trivial idea can be more valuable than the results of years of research and development. Many creative entrepreneurs guard the business ideas they have gained from practice like the apple of their eye. For fear of being “robbed” by ambitious imitators or even the overwhelming competition, they sometimes prefer to let their flashes of inspiration gather dust in the desk drawer than to look at concrete possibilities for realization.

Ideas are not protected!

First of all, that’s understandable. Theft of ideas is indeed common – and in the vast majority of cases also completely legal.

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Because, contrary to what is often assumed, there is no copyright on pure ideas. Only the works based on them, such as books, melodies, or computer programs, are protected by the Copyright Act.

Suppose you have the groundbreaking idea of offering “grave maintenance via the Internet”. Then, for example, the catchy formulations and the conceptual structure of an essay on this topic would be protected in the central organ of florists. But not the content: Competitors who, inspired by the article (or an overheard conversation in the restaurant) take up the suggestion and successfully implement it, would not have to fear any legal problems.

The patent law leaves you similarly defenseless. Patents are only granted for (especially technical) inventions that can be used commercially. “Plans, rules, and procedures for […] business activities”, on the other hand, are expressly not “inventions” within the meaning of the Patent Act! Advertising ideas are also not protected by copyright. Even the unusual concept of an advertising campaign is not protected as such, as the Cologne Higher Regional Court ruled a few years ago.

In the case of fictitious “grave maintenance via the Internet”, innovative technical special devices or processes could at best be patentable with which remote-controlled sowing and weeding are possible and which are more than mere adaptations of already existing tele-technologies.

In turn, you could only expect protection from the trademark law for word, image, or audio signs under which you operate or want to operate your “grave maintenance via the Internet” service.

Finally, in the Criminal Code, there is a prohibition on the ” violation of private secrets ” and the ” exploitation of foreign secrets “. However, these relate mainly to public officials and special professional groups such as doctors, lawyers, or experts. Barriers against industrial espionage are provided by the general protection of letters, post or telecommunications secrecy, against data spying, or of business premises against break-ins.