Protection of ideas and know-how

Protection of ideas

Not all ideas, no matter how original or novel, may be protected by copyright (or any other intellectual property right). This is due to the principles of free trade and free circulation of ideas.

However, the expression of an idea which has taken a certain shape, such as literary, musical, artistic, audiovisual, functional, etc. may be protectable. The concrete development of an idea, concept or method may be protected. Protection does not concern only the final shape of a work: an outline, project plan, or draft version could also meet the criteria for the shape of a work.

It is more difficult to determine when an idea is sufficiently concretised in a particular expression to be protected.

For example:

  • The idea of designing a borderless canal is not protected in and of itself, but the blueprints or original sketch of this canal which indicate its design, even a preliminary sketch, may be protected by copyright;
  • A method for teaching singing to children is not protected in and of itself, but the teachers notes or books which concretise this method may be protected by copyright;
  • A television or radio show concept may not be protected as such, but the concrete development of basic ideas for this program or the way in which the program is organised to effectively carry out the concept may be protected by copyright.

Without this concretisation of ideas, they may only be protected through secrecy or contracts.

For example, when presenting an interesting idea or concept to a company, you can use a confidentiality clause in a contract which specifies, in advance, how the data which was shared may be used.

When an idea or concept is re-used or copied, a civil suit may be filed for civil responsibility, unjust enrichment or unfair competition in order to defend an idea. Criminal law and labour law provisions are also applicable.

Protection of know-how

Know-how is the set of technical, transmissible knowledge which is not immediately accessible to the public and which is not covered by a patent.

This know-how has a high economic value and it may be important to prevent your competitors from obtaining it.

Know-how is not covered by specific legal protections and, as simple ideas, may generally be protected only by secrecy or specific contracts.

One company may transmit its know-how to another, in particular when authorising the use of one of its inventions which requires specific know-how in order to use it. These know-how transfers or communication agreements generally contain confidentiality clauses which prohibit filing a patent request for this know-how and provide for payment for transmission of this know-how.

Confidentiality of data on medicines

Pharmaceutical companies must share a great deal of data on the design of a medicine when requesting authorisation to place the medicine on the market. The law requires authorities in charge of this authorisation to keep this data confidential.

Contact Center

FPS Economy, S.M.E.s, Self-employed and Energy
Contact Center

Rue du Progrès, 50
1210 Brussels

Phone (free number): 0800 120 33
From abroad: +32 800 120 33

Fax (free number): 0800 120 57
From abroad: +32 800 120 57

Ask your question by means of the webform