Stolen Ideas Often Result in Limited Remedies

Commentary: Imagine the following scenario: you develop a great idea for a television show and submit it to a network for consideration. They reject the proposal. But, a few months later you see an advertisement for a new show that looks a lot like the show that you had pitched. “Looks like a duck, quacks like a duck…,” right? Unfortunately, even if the show follows the precise outline of your pitch, such use may not be deemed to be intellectual property infringement.

The law does not generally allow individuals to protect ideas. However, it does have certain modes for protecting aspects of intellectual property: copyright allows the protection of the actual expression of an idea (the written script, the actual photograph, etc.); trademark law enables the general protection of a business and product or service names, branding and logo; and patent law will sometimes protect a general concept, however this is generally limited to technical aspects or utilitarian concepts. The best way to protect an “idea” is to generally engage in a combination attack. Essentially, the idea may be able to be protected through the different protectable aspects of the project through intellectual property filings.

In order to protect the over-arching “idea,” protection must be contracted for. Again, the law itself does not provide an over-arching protection for an idea itself. If an idea is openly shared, someone else can separately develop it. It is not a good practice to share ideas unless and until the person or entity with whom they are sharing it promises to keep the ideas confidential and to not use or exploit the idea themselves. This type of contract is generally called a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) or confidentiality agreement. Executing this agreement, might arguably provide recourse against the party to whom the idea was revealed, assuming they then utilized it in violation of their signed, written agreement. Whereas the idea-holder may not be able to sue for infringement, he may have the ability to sue for breach of contract and either stop the infringer from proceeding with the idea and/or obtain damages from their wrongful use.

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