Unfortunately, the United States does not have a system for patenting an idea. Copyrights protect expression of ideas, and patents protect ideas that are developed into inventions, but when something is still in the “idea” phase, it cannot be legally protected. This means that in order for you to have a legal claim on your great idea, you must take it to the next step! In other words, if you have a great idea, don’t sell it to someone in hopes that they will do the logistics for you and pass on some of the profits. They may – but because you cannot place legal claim on your idea, it is not something you can count on.
The most important thing to do when you have a great idea is to see it through. Do not give up, even if you feel stuck bringing it to fruition. You are not generally required to have a prototype built in order to apply for a patent, you need only be able to draw and thoroughly describe your idea. If you are worried about your visual communication skills, hire a patent illustrator to help you so that you can make sure that your drawing clearly demonstrates your idea.
This is what separates groundbreaking inventors from dreamers. People have good ideas all the time, but they lack the confidence to follow through with them. They get started, but then they become overwhelmed by the process and give up. Whatever you do, don’t give up! Use every resource available at the United States Patent Office, and do some research on how to conquer some of the roadblocks you run into. Many people have gone down the patent path, and almost all of them encounter things they wish they’d known before they started. Learn from their experiences.
So, back to the beginning. How do you protect your idea? By following through with it, drawing it out, and applying for a patent based on either its design or its function. Only then will you have the legal protection you need.