Can I patent or protect a business model/idea that i created?
4 attorney answers
As other Avvo counsel have noted, ideas are not patentable. Inventions are patentable provided they are sufficiently new, useful, and non-obvious in light of existing technology. A restaurant "concept" is not likely patentable. Protecting the concept prior to you implementing it for the world to enjoy would may require a bespoke NDA-type agreement (aside from perhaps some thin copyright protection in, say, your pitch deck), though depending on the concept and your pitch you may face some hurdles in getting potential investors or other parties to agree to it. The Illinois Trade Secrets Act can provide protection for ambiguously-intellectual property provided such information qualifies for protection (i.e., it is kept secret, is valuable because it remains confidential, etc), but whether any candidate information is even at play is an open question.
It would be advisable to contact a local patent attorney and, moreover, a business attorney who will be able to evaluate your concept and - bigger picture - point your venture in the right direction regardless of to what extent your idea is protectable.
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The answer to your question is quite a bit more detailed than it may appear at first glance. You need to meet with an intellectual property attorney, preferably one who is also a patent attorney. You can then discuss the specifics of your business model. If your model is a national model or even an international model then issues related to whether some aspects of your business model may be protected as a trade secret will depend on numerous state and national laws that could potentially apply. If your idea is simply one in Illinois, then a local practitioner in the Chicagoland area can assist you with aspects of Illinois state law for trade secrets. In general, if your idea is national in scope, you should know that most states have adopted at least in many respects, the Uniform Trade Secrets Act into state law. Whether your particular business model has aspects that meet the requirements of a trade secret will require an IP attorney to review your materials and discuss in detail all of those things that not yet "written up". You should know that you will need to have a full write-up of the business model as part of its potential protection as a trade secret. You also will need an NDA prepared by your IP attorney for ANY person you share it with. If they do NOT sign the NDA, do NOT disclose your plans to them. No exceptions. Your second point relates to whether you may be able to obtain patent protection for your business model. Please note, as my colleagues have pointed out to you: NO protection for an idea!! I believe, however, that you may be referring to "Business Method" patents as an option. This area of patent law is extremely complex, with several new cases over the last several years, including most recently a Supreme Court case, Alice v. CLS Bank. Suffice it to say, that you will need to consult with a patent attorney who works in this particular area of patenting to evaluate whether you may "methods" that can be implemented in a manner to comply with the law after the Alice case. If you do, it may involve some sort of "application", "software", or "computer implemented invention" that is MORE than a mere abstract idea with an algorithm that says only "apply the abstract idea." This will require you to share flow-charts (if you have any) of some unique process with a patent attorney and to discuss how your system or methods meet these requirements. Overall, my first reaction to a business model in the restaurant business is one of skepticism. However, working in patent law myself, I typically reserve judgment until I see all of the facts. Good luck!
Disclaimer: The above is general legal and business analysis. It is not "legal advice" but analysis, and different lawyers may analyse this matter differently, especially if there are additional facts not reflected in the question. I am not your attorney until retained by a written retainer agreement signed by both of us. I am only licensed in California. See also avvo.com terms and conditions item 9, incorporated as if it was reprinted here.
The short answer is no, as noted. A patent protects the HOW not the what and if we could protect business models, we would only have a dozen or so providers of all the goods and services in the universe.
You may be able to employ a solid non-disclosure/non-use agreement so you have some protection of some aspects to your concept under contract law. But contrary to what many believe, these still need to be tailored and particularized if they are to be enforceable in court. That is, it is a balance and they should not be too over-broad nor too narrow.
I suggest that you consult with a lawyer in private and discuss your objectives in more detail. You can start by calling around to several for a free phone consultation, get some insights then pick the best fit to work with.
DISCLAIMER: this is not intended to be specific legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. No attorney-client relationship is formed with the law firm of Natoli-Lapin, LLC on the basis of this posting.
You cannot protect an idea. You may write a plan and implement it so you can take credit for being first. But, in the restaurant business it is not likely you'd be the first in any aspect of operation creativity.