This business will be based out of Washington State. Need to know if I should apply for patent or have legal documents to protect my idea when presenting it to possible investors.
More information would be required to answer this question definitively - and due to the sensitive nature of your service, please do not give us any more information about what it is you are trying to protect on this website. The best advice I can give is to speak with a local attorney about your matter. Without knowing whether your service is patent-able, I'm betting your local attorney will advise you to use NDA agreements to hand out to potential investors as you present your idea to them. I suggest you also look into trademark protection for your service once you have developed a unique name for it.
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Your best bet would be to seek an initial consultation with an intellectual property attorney, who can advise you regarding whether patent, trade secret, or some other method of intellectual property or contractual protection is best suitable for your proposed business.
For example, you may want to file a provisional patent application and use a non-disclosure agreement when pitching aspects of the business to investors. But, without knowing more, it is impossible to know whether those (or other) options would be good for your particular situation.
Of course, it would be unwise to provide a detailed explanation of your proposed business on a public forum like Avvo, if you think there is anything novel about your proposed business.
I am an attorney, but I am not YOUR attorney. By providing free, generalized information, I am not entering into an attorney/client relationship with you, nor am I providing legal advice applicable to your particular needs.
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Intellectual Property Law Attorney
Absolutely you should see an IP attorney. If you have enough concern to ask the question you surely have enough proprietary material to see an IP attorney. Get one that does patents, trademarks, and copyrights (all 3) and who has Internet experience, as you likely need review in all 3 areas. Unless you have a business attorney, you will also need guidance there. Setting up a website business poses a number of special problems.
I am not your lawyer and you are not my client. Free advice here is without recourse and any reliance thereupon is at your sole risk. This is done without compensation as a free public service. I am licensed in IL, MO, TX and I am a Reg. Pat. Atty. so advice in any other jurisdiction is strictly general advice and should be confirmed with an attorney licensed in that jurisdiction.
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I agree with Michael that it would be wise to sit down with an attorney, even if it's just a consultation, to discuss IP issues. Additionally, it would probably be a good idea to discuss other issues such as how to protect your ownership and control over the business, the appropriate entity for your business, and how to reduce liability concerns if you plan to hire employees or retain independent contractors.
Protecting the IP is definitely a big concern - but corporate governance and other start up issues are equally important, and you should make sure to educate yourself on those as well when getting things off the ground.
Legal disclaimer: The answer provided above is for general information purposes only and should not be relied on as specific legal advice. This answer does not form an attorney-client relationship. You should consult with an attorney of your choice to fully advise you about your legal rights and obligations.
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