How to Protect My Idea for a Restaurant Concept

By Lee Roberts

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.

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.

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.

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Trademark

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.

Patent

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

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.

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What Needs a Patent: An Idea or An Invention?

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Related articles

How to Patent Food Ideas

If you have some great food ideas and want the exclusive right to manufacture or sell them in the United States, obtaining a patent on each idea is a smart thing to do. To obtain patent protection, you must file an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, or USPTO. A separate patent application must be filed for each food product or recipe idea, and your application must reflect a tested process or product rather than just a vague idea.

What Are Patents?

Article I of the U.S. Constitution empowers the federal government to grant patents to “promote the progress of science and the useful arts.” A patent is a property right that enables an inventor to prevent others from using his invention for a limited time. In essence, it gives the inventor a monopoly and the exclusive rights to sell, use, or license the invention. To receive a patent, the inventor must publicly disclose how the invention works. By providing legal protection to new inventions, patents help encourage investments in research and development without fear that another will steal their hard work.

How to Understand Copyright Ideas Versus Expression

In the United States, copyright laws stem from a simple statement in the Constitution that gives exclusive rights to authors to protect their original works which, in turn, promotes the progress of science and useful arts. Copyright laws look primarily at the form of the work, to distinguish between protected and unprotected works. Copyright tries to reward individual authors while still addressing the public’s needs and concerns regarding intellectual property.

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