It's 10 o'clock, do you know where you ideas are?

Imagine that you have a grand idea for some new widget.  Maybe you will change the world.  Maybe you will make a mint.  Or, maybe you will just end up with a pile of scrap and an empty bank account.  Regardless, you need a plan of action to turn your dream into a reality.  What do you do now?

The first thing you need to do, as usual, is check with the State.  Someone else may have had the same idea, or a similar one, and applied for a state-granted monopoly on the use of it.  If you forge ahead, you could stand accused of stealing someone's idea, regardless of its actual origin!  You had better hire a lawyer to search the government's file of officially recognized ideas, though having done due diligence will grant you no immunity from future litigation.  If that goes well, you will need to hire another lawyer to help draft an otherwise very unhelpful document.  It will need to describe as many potential manifestations of the idea as possible, even though you already know what manifestation it will take.   The document will need to be both as specific and as general as possible.  After all, you need to protect your specific idea in as broad a manner as you can.  This will, of course, make the document unreadable and uninteresting to anyone not being paid $500/hour to interpret it, but it is very important that you protect yourself from someone taking your idea away from you in the dark of night.  Worse still, someone could submit your idea in writing to the state, and they will come take it, though it will probably be in the light of day.     

Now after considerable expense of time and money, and provided someone didn't already write down a similar idea, you can begin working on development, somewhat safe in the knowledge that your brainchild is protected by and from the long arm of the law.  After countless months building prototypes, meeting with engineers and business managers, courting potential investors and ignoring your health and family, the commercial launch comes, and it is an unprecedented success.  The product, now a household name, is flying off the shelves.  No one can keep it in inventory.  Sales projections are astronomical.  The burgeoning new company that you have started signs enormous contracts and hires a small army of employees to build, sell and improve its wares.

And just when you are having your first success and think that your young idea has grown up to be big and strong, you learn that it is not so safe after all.  Some men - wearing very nice suits no doubt - have sent you a letter claiming that your idea is a bit too much like their idea.  Now that their idea is making you money, they would like a little taste of it.  Of course, it's true that it wasn't their idea to begin with, but they bought it fair and square from a guy who just couldn't quite make it work commercially at the time.  Clearly, you have proven that he was right all along.  Their letter makes it seem like this process hurts them as much as it does you.  They go on to say that maybe if you could work out a payment system for their valuable service of having purchased an idea kind of like yours, they won't have to get the State involved.

Putting aside your own self preservation for a moment, don't you just have to admire these noble souls who protect the safety of poor, orphaned ideas until such time that wealthy parents emerge?  After all, if someone doesn't protect our ideas, they might get seriously hurt.  Then new ideas might not come around any more out of pure fear!

I hope that at this point your story would go on.  I hope that you would fight, but I would not blame you if you decided to settle.  Perhaps at this point you would have become jaded with the very concept of legally protecting something as intangible as an idea.  Is it theft to copy the actions of another?  Further still, is it criminal to see another's product and make a better one of your own?  Neither of these behaviors deprive the other of their property.  In our modern world, are there any truly original ideas that do not stand upon the foundation of some prior art, such that we can honestly consider them to have sprung full-formed from any one mind?  How, in this legal paradigm, does one properly resolve a dispute between two honestly independent inventors happening upon an idea simultaneously?  Which one is the thief?  You say that taking another's idea deprives him of future profits.  You have thus found the theft!  But your logic is circular.  The inventor can only expect such profits to be protected under at state paradigm that protects his ideas as property.  Therefore, your rationalization for the law is nothing more than a plea for the status quo

I hope you come away with the realization that when something seems too complicated to be true, it probably is.
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