Is an Idea Intellectual Property?

So, you’ve got a great idea that you think is going to provide you and your family financial security for years to come. You may also have a vague understanding that you can “own” intellectual property (IP) but may not be sure whether your idea qualifies or is already protected. A quick internet search may return results about trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, non-disclosure agreements (NDA), and various other ways to protect IP – but what’s right for your idea?

An Idea by Itself is Not Intellectual Property

Generally, intellectual property is a product of the human mind that is legally protected from authorized use by others. While an idea is certainly a product of the mind, an idea without further action has no legal protection, keeping it from fitting the definition of intellectual property. Fortunately, if you have a million-dollar idea, there are ways that you can protect it from being used by others – even if you want to disclose it to other parties.


Copyrights protect creative works from misappropriation by others. A copyright can be used to protect songs, books, stories, musical performances, paintings, drawings, designs, among other forms of expression. Copyrights provide exclusive rights for the publication, distribution, and usage rights to the author of the work. In many cases, copyright holders grant licenses to others to distribute their works and collect royalties.


Patents protect inventions such as processes, compositions of matter, designs for articles of manufacture, and new varieties of plants. Patents grant the right for the patent holder to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, and selling the invention in the United States or importing the invention in the United States. Obtaining a patent can be a long and arduous process; fortunately for inventors, you can file for a provisional patent that provides IP protection for a limited amount of time while you flesh your idea out further.

Non-Disclosure Agreements

If you are looking to shop your idea to potential manufacturers, designers, partners, or other parties, a non-disclosure agreement is a way to prevent people who learn about your idea from disclosing it to others. Importantly, however, an NDA is only actionable with respect to the parties who sign it, so it does not protect your idea from misappropriation by others should it get out into the world at large.

Additional Action is Required

So, how do you turn your idea into intellectual property? In general, you need to take some type of action to create or memorialize your idea and then file for the appropriate type of protection. In addition, depending on the type of IP, you may not even need to file anything to secure common law rights. That said, filing for copyrights or patents is always advisable, as they provide additional statutory protections for the intellectual property holders.

The Best Way to Protect Your Ideas is to Talk to a Toronto IP Lawyer as Soon as You Can

If you are sitting on an idea that you think you could take to market, it’s not the best use of your time to navigate the labyrinthine rules and regulations associated with intellectual property law. Instead, you should reach out to an IP lawyer in your area who understands how to help artists, creators, inventors, and others secure intellectual property rights in their ideas. A lawyer will be able to identify the type of IP protection you need, handle the paperwork required, and, if necessary, connect you with other professionals who can help secure your IP protections as soon as possible – allowing you to focus on what really matters, which is taking your idea from concept to execution.

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