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I have a business idea. Can I protect it?

  1. Jul 19, 2007 #1
    I think I have a great idea for a business. This "idea" is not a physical product. It is a service that I think will help consumers save time and increase sale for retailers. This service will use barcode scanner or RFID reader.

    Is it possible to patent/protect a service?
     
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2007
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  3. Jul 19, 2007 #2

    Ivan Seeking

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    To the best of my knowledge, no.

    This goes back to the notion that great ideas are a dime a dozen. Sales and marketing is where the rubber hits the road.
     
  4. Jul 19, 2007 #3
    So I guess I can't test the idea before taking the plunge. If only I can protect it I can test drive the idea at a couple of stores before going full out.
     
  5. Jul 19, 2007 #4

    Ivan Seeking

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    Unless there is something unusual about your idea that makes it different than most, and off the top of my head I can't imagine anything that would make it different in this regard, the only way to really know if it will work is to take the plunge. Of course there is much that can be done to study the market before investing in a million widgets, or before hiring people, but market surveys and analyses cost money.

    You might approach likely partners like the stores that you mentioned. Get signed non-disclosure forms and promises to not compete [both are standard forms in business], and then work with them.
     
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2007
  6. Jul 19, 2007 #5
    Problem is the customers will see it and I might lose my idea that way instead.
     
  7. Jul 19, 2007 #6

    Ivan Seeking

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    It sounds like you don't have all that much to protect if it is that vulnerable. In fact if you do some research... and I say this only because it has happened to me many times, you may find that the idea has already been tried, and failed. Or, you may find that it's already being done. On the up side, you might be amazed at just how much money can be made with nothing to protect your idea. If it is that good of an idea, you might make a fortune before the competition even sets in.

    How much money would it take to start doing this? Is this something that the stores are likely to do, or would it require a company dedicated to providing this service?
     
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2007
  8. Jul 19, 2007 #7
    The equipments required for my idea to work are already utilized in most supermarkets. My idea uses the same equipments that make the club membership system @ supermarkets like VONS or Ralph work.

    It requires a barcode scanner, plastic card with barcode and a server. I'm sure supermarkets can implement my idea simply by reprogramming their club membership system.

    I think it is best if I sell my idea to supermarkets because they already have all the equipment required to implement my idea. I'm not sure they will buy the idea if it is not protected because they can just take it from me.

    I hope I make sense.
     
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2007
  9. Jul 19, 2007 #8

    Ivan Seeking

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    I know of a company that pays it's employees $100 for ideas that lead to patents on real technology - ideas that may save the company millions over the years. It's a tough world out there.

    Good luck!
     
  10. Jul 19, 2007 #9
    Take Bank of America's "keep the change" for example. They trademarked it so would it be legal for Washington Mutual to have a similar program?
     
  11. Jul 19, 2007 #10

    Astronuc

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    Yes. A trademark is not a patent. A trademark is more of a market or commercial identifier. WM could not legally use "keep the change" for its equivalent service.

    One can patent a 'process', as long as it meets 3 criteria: new, useful and non-obvious. Depending on one's innovation, one might be able to obtain a patent. Enforcing it is another matter entirely.

    Also, disclosure of one's idea before the application for patent will void the patent.

    One will have to do research - background of the patent to be sure that it has not been used previously.
     
  12. Jul 19, 2007 #11

    Chi Meson

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    Patent lawyers are rich.
     
  13. Jul 19, 2007 #12
    ...to tell you somewhat relevant story, I will quote myself (from other forum):
     
  14. Jul 19, 2007 #13
    why not post your idea here in very, very a detailed and descriptive way, disclosing all the ideas behind it and all of its possible uses---then we can tell you whether its worthwhile or not.









    (just kidding :tongue2: )
     
  15. Jul 19, 2007 #14

    Moonbear

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    I was thinking the same thing, but if it's so simply implemented with current technology, and something that could be quickly stolen as soon as you start using it, it's unlikely to pass the non-obvious test.

    If, instead, it requires using a program you write to integrate into their computer systems, and the program is not something very simple that any kid could write in a few hours or days of work, then the program is what might be patentable. Otherwise, if it's just something else for them to track using their current customer cards/database/scanner system, then it's not likely to meet the non-obvious criteria.
     
  16. Jul 19, 2007 #15
    I'm thinking of calling supermarket's HQ and to pitch my idea to them. Before discussing it with them, I will have some kind of contract stating that I have discussed this idea with them, and that they would need pay me if they are going to use it. It's not as good as a patent but it is better than nothing IMO.

    Does this sound like a good plan?
     
  17. Jul 19, 2007 #16

    Astronuc

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    You would need to sign a 'non-disclosure agreement' which also contains a paragraph by which you retain all rights, titles and interests in your idea, i.e. they can't use it without compensating you and they cannot disclose it to others.

    Depending you the idea, they might be able to figure out something comparable but sufficiently different, or they might recognize that it is already being done, but in a different way.


    Along the lines of Moonbear's comments, the non-obivous test is the trickiest one. Should someone who is familiar with the system/process be able to figure it out? The counter argument is that "if it is so obvious, why hasn't someone done it already?" This is where 'new' comes in, and the fact is that an idea may not be so obvious.
     
  18. Jul 20, 2007 #17
    Here is my idea. I've decided not to pursuit this idea anymore. Tell me what you think and if you make some money from this idea please send me some. I'm poor ;P

    Supermarkets that have club membership program should have a feature that allow customers to save the change in an account after a cash purchase. For example, a guy buy some candy for $1.56 and paid $2. He can have the option of getting .44 cents back or save .44 cents in his club membership account by swipping/scanning his club card.

    Next time he buys something, he can pay with the $ accumulated in his club membership account.

    Coinstar is a successful company and that means consumers have a lot of change in their house!
     
  19. Jul 20, 2007 #18

    russ_watters

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    I'm not so jaded as others seem to be about patents. You can patent ideas and the non-obvious thing is not as tough a criteria as people seem to think. For example, I would think the idea of a one-click purchase process for online retalers would be somewhat obvious. But....
    http://news.com.com/2100-1001-231798.html
     
  20. Jul 20, 2007 #19

    russ_watters

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    "Keep the change" is, in fact, patent pending and your idea is similar enough to it it may not be unique. But that's a question for a patent lawyer or the USPTO themselves to answer. It looks like a good idea to me and one I could see patenting and then licensing to retailers.
    http://www.bankofamerica.com/promos/jump/ktc/index.cfm?&statecheck=PA
    It does sound like a good idea, but I don't know how easy it would be to get their attention.
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2007
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