New restaurant concepts have a short shelf life because dining trends, tastes and fads change quickly. Keeping your concept in the idea stage subtracts from the amount of time you will be able to capitalize upon it. Although the true value of a project is rarely in the idea of it alone, if you do not protect your ideas, you are giving your competitors a head start based on something that started in your head.
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Non-Disclosure and Confidentiality Agreements
Inevitably, you will need to share your idea with others who will play a role in bringing it to life. Local restaurant industries tend to be somewhat insular, and it is likely you and your competitors will do business with many of the same people through all stages of your restaurant's existence. Prior to providing information to potential consultants, investors, suppliers or anyone else, ask each one to sign a document agreeing not to discuss your idea for a restaurant concept without your permission. Draft the agreement in terms that are broad enough to protect your interests, but no so broad that you discourage anyone from signing it. Seek out assistance in structuring the document according to your specific needs. Online legal services can guide you through the process to create a fair and binding document.
You cannot trademark an idea, but you may be able to protect the more valuable aspects of your idea, including a name for your restaurant, slogans and logos, on the basis of your intent to use them in commerce. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office requires you to submit filings and fees beyond what the office requires for trademarks that are in actual use. All trademark filings are public records; others will be able to learn about your idea from your application, even if the Trademark Office does not approve it. Use legal assistance to improve your chances of success.
If your restaurant idea involves some new mechanical device or a process, then you may be able to develop your idea into a utility patent. If your idea is to create something ornamental embodied in or applied to something that is manufactured, then a design patent will protect your work. The Patent Office does not require you to manufacture the item before they will grant a patent to you. Patent records are public records. If your concept involves a secret recipe or process, anyone will be able to learn the steps and ingredients through the information you provide the Patent Office. Consult with an attorney, either online or in person, before filing your patent application due to the complex nature of the process.
Copyright protection does not cover “ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries or devices," under Title 17 of the U.S. Code. However, if the concept you have developed, as an example, involves the waitstaff performing something like an original dramatic, literary or musical work that you have created, you may seek copyright protection for the lyrics, score or text. If you have created original artwork to hang on the walls to convey the theme, then that artwork is subject to copyright. Copyright protection attaches to your work the moment that you put it into tangible form. Register your copyright with the Copyright Office to secure additional legal protections.
References & Resources
- Harvard Business School: Top Ten Legal Mistakes Made by Entrepreneurs
- U.S. Patent and Trademark Office: Trademark Basics
- U.S. Patent and Trademark Office: Process for Filing a Utility Patent
- U.S. Patent and Trademark Office: A Guide to Filing A Design Patent Application
- U.S. Copyright Office: Copyright Basics
- QSR Magazine: How to Name Your Concept (And Do it Right)
- Food and Beverage Underground Magazine: Choosing and Creating Your Restaurant Concept
- Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images