So you want to know how to protect your website idea easily and before you get out there sharing it with everyone else? The problem is, ideas on their own are not protected under traditional intellectual property laws like copyright, trademarks, patents and designs.
Your website idea is not protected by copyright unless it is put in to some format that can be handed around. So if you have created a full outline for the website, mapped out how it will look and where different items of information will appear and possibly also covered off how people are likely to navigate through your site, you may have something that is able to be protected. A story board of what it would look like is better, and better still, a beta version of the actual website, even if it is not visible to the general searching public just yet. The only real protection for your website is in what it looks like and the code behind it, but not the idea. Your website idea can be immediately ‘adopted’ by anyone else with a similar interest. Think about all the recipe websites on the internet.
Design protect is pretty similar to copyright protection and will still only cover what it looks like, not the idea behind it.
Still interested in more about the ‘How’? To protect your website idea using a patent is only possible if you have some form of unique process or functionality in the website, wether the front or back end. It has to be really novel, not just a slight change on something that is already out there. Think how innovative Google was with search engine development. Their algorithms can be protected by patent because what they put together was technically so different from what anyone else had done before. Producing a pretty website that just looks a little different from anyone else’s does not mean that you have anything that can be protected.
Trademarks simply don’t apply to ideas – unless your idea is a catch-phrase you want to protect in a particular industry. Think “ShipYourEnemiesGlitter.com”. The whole concept for the website was contained in the name of it. The creator could have applied for trademark protection, but hey, he came up with the idea, built the website, launched it and sold it all in the space of about three weeks, so even though he could have had an application for a trademark filed in that time, it probably would have just been a distraction. If he had filed an application for trademark, he would have needed to file it internationally to gain protection for his idea because it went viral, and so global, very very quickly. In theory, the new owner could register “ShipYourEnemiesGlitter.com” as a trademark and then chase up all the copy-caters that immediately came out of the woodwork, and there is no doubt some legal teams would love that, but they are probably focused on making fast money with the business, rather than making slow money through legal proceedings.
There a way how to protect your website idea and that is to get an agreement with the person or entity you are sharing the idea with for non-circumvention. Non-circumvention is not the same as a non-disclosure agreement or confidentiality deed. What a non-circumvention agreement does is put the other person on notice that they cannot go and commercialise your idea without you being involved, and if they do, anything they earn from it they have to give to you. Beware! Where there is money involved some people become suddenly combative. So think about where you want any disputes to be resolved, especially if you are sharing your website idea with someone in another country.