People often have good business ideas, and quite naturally want to protect them.
It is an oft quoted fundamental of copyright law that copyright protects an expression of an idea, but not the idea itself.
A similar principle underlies the law of trade marks.
This means that while it might be possible to register a word, sentence, picture, shape, colour, sound, video or even scent as a trade mark, this will not usually provides a monopoly over the underlying concept.
For example, many charitable organisations have hit upon the idea of setting aside a whole month under a humorous name for fundraising purposes. “Movember” is now a staple in offices across Australia.
However, while the name “Movember” can be protected as a registered trade mark, the underlying concept cannot. The owners of “Movember” could prevent use of a similar name, but they would find it difficult to prevent someone else doing similar fundraising using a different brand, e.g. Mullet-ober or Bad Hair May.
Of all forms of intellectual property, a patent offers the closest thing to protection of an idea. However, there are limits on what even a patent will protect.
The lesson to be learned is this- being the first to come up with a business idea doesn’t always give you an exclusive right to it. Chances are, if the business idea is good enough, someone will find a way to copy it. The secret to success is developing a business that can withstand competition.