Ideas such as methods and processes may be protected under patent law. However, in order to be eligible for patent, the method must be novel and non-obvious. This is something that a vast majority internet business ideas cannot achieve. For example, your idea would essentially combine instant messaging with a social networking website; this has been done many times and it is highly unlikely that anyone owns the patent on it.
This material is for information purposes and does not constitute legal advice that is tailored to your own personal circumstances and should not replace legal advice of an attorney. Although I try my best to keep the information updated, the material is not guaranteed to be up to date or complete. Firm website: <a href="http://www.handalglobal.com">www.handalglobal.com</a>
Further, you have several different transaction to work out. You have to consider the agreement between you and your clients, the agreement between you and your providers and perhaps how the providers are interacting with the clients. We have several clients that have engaged in the same and similar endeavors.
I agree with your assessment about the trademark and this should be done upfront and in a comprehensive manner that includes both common and federal law (see link below for more on this process) to ensure you are not exposing yourself to potential problem later, usually when you do not expect it and only once you are gaining traction. while it is a smart idea to do your own preliminary searching, you should not rely on that alone.
You should also be setting up a proper liability shield as well such as an LLC or S-Corp to insulate yourself personally from the debts and obligations arising out of the business activity.
I will link you to some general helpful info below and suggest you reach out to several lawyers for some insights and so you can get a sense for how they work and charge, etc. Most of us here, including myself, offer a free phone consult, so consider taking advantage of that.
The law firm of Natoli-Lapin, LLC (Home of Lantern Legal Services) offers our flat-rate legal services in the areas of business law and intellectual property to entrepreneurs, small-to-medium size businesses, independent inventors and artists across the nation and abroad. 866-871-8655 Support@LanternLegal.com DISCLAIMER: this is not intended to be specific legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. No attorney-client relationship is formed on the basis of this posting.
Are You Planning on Opening a New E-Commerce Website?
There is much you need to know as you begin your new business. I suggest you do not attempt to write your own legal policies. This is not where your training and background lie, and though you are probably as smart as an attorney, you do not have their experience.
Below is a checklist for legal issues I use for new e-commerce clients.
1. Business Model – Is your idea viable as a web based business?
2. Business entity - Are you going to be a C corp, an LLC or a sole proprietorship?
3. Terms of Service - This is your contract with your visitors and is the most important item for any e-commerce site. A little work here brings big dividends in the future.
5. FTC guidlines - The FTC has been regulating business advertising for almost a century. All of their advertising guidlines apply to e-commerce sites.
6. Domain Name issues? Is your name available. Can you create a Trademark?
7. Trademark - Do you have a brand name free from conflict? Should you start with just common law rights? Should you register the mark, and when?
8. Copyright - If it is on the web, it already belongs to somebody. Did you buy a license for the images you are using? Do you have a DMCA notice on your web site?
9. Do you need a DMCA policy?
10. Web Site security issues?
11. Do you need and have an EIN? You can get that for free.
12. Do you have employees? - If so you need written policies regarding their authority and use of the internet.
13. Do you know the difference between a "browser wrap" and a "click wrap" and which do you need?
When I discuss this list with clients other issues arise. Finally, I always discuss with my clients their need for good accounting services. An accountant's advice as you start up can save you many dollars in tax that you might not save if you wait to speak to an accountant until your first tax return is due.
I hope this list will give you pause to think about those issues for which you might need to seek professional advice.
You may want to discuss your situation with a lawyer in more detail. Most lawyers on Avvo, including myself, offer a free phone consultation.
Andrew M. Jaffe
Attorney at Law
Practice Limited to E-Commerce and Internet Law
This post is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice specific to you. This general information is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney in your jurisdiction. The attorney client relationship is not established by this post.