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My Big Idea Gone Bad In Vegas

My Big Idea Gone Bad In Vegas

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Published by Robert Pagliarini

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Published by: Robert Pagliarini on Jan 19, 2010
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My Big Idea Gone Bad in Vegas

By Robert Pagliarini – Columnist for CBS MoneyWatch

I think I'm getting old. I was in Vegas over the weekend with a good friend. We used to spend many of our other 8 hours in various bars/clubs in LA, so you can imagine the hyperbole as the weeks turned into days leading up to our trip. Once in "Sin City" surrounded by alcohol, beautiful people, gambling, excess, and debauchery, what kind of craziness did we get into? We spent hours perched up on bar stools . . . . brainstorming a new charitable venture. My wife (and mother!) would be proud. The gist is that we would create a credit card where we would round up purchases to the nearest dollar and give this change to various charities around the world. "Change for the World" is what we'd call it. Pretty cool, right? In just a short amount of time, we laid the ground work for this venture. How we'd market it (first approach non-profits to get them to distribute it to their donors), partners we'd bring in to run it, the revenue model (100% of the change would go to charities but we'd keep or split the 2.5% service charge on purchases), how we'd patent the process, other offerings we could provide, and even the color of the card (bright orange so cardholders would get recognition from vendors when they paid for purchases). So why am I telling you about Change for the World instead of launching it? When I got home I did a little research. About ten minutes later, my hopes for creating a global non-profit went up in flames. I was only slightly familiar with Bank of America's (BofA) "Keep the Change" program launched in 2005, and wanted to learn more about what they were doing. A quick trip to BofA's website confirmed they'll round up your purchases to the nearest dollar and transfer the change to your savings account. The website claimed it was "patent pending," but I couldn't find anything about it on the

U.S. Patent & Trademark Office website. When all else fails, Google! I searched for "keep the change bank America patent" and found that BusinessWeek did a glowing case study of how BofA created the Keep the Change program, but I also discovered some disturbing news. A company called, Every Penny Counts, Inc., is suing BofA for patent infringement (they patented the concept of rounding up and either saving the change or donating it). Every Penny Counts received a patent in 2000 that appears to describe exactly what BofA's "Keep the Change" program does. According to the Every Penny Counts website, they even approached BofA about their patented idea in 2001 and 2005, but BofA claimed it was not profitable or viable. The thought I can't get out of my head? That could have been me! Come up with a brilliant idea, fork over $15,000 or more getting a patent, spend over a decade trying to create a business model, pitch it to partners, and then watch as Goliath takes my lunch money. I have no idea if the lawsuit is justified or what did/will happen, but here are the lessons I learned: Patents don't protect ideas. Trademarks, patents, copyrights and the like don't protect ideas. Anyone, anywhere, at anytime can take your patented idea and run with it. You can't protect ideas; you can only defend them. And that takes money. • If you're small and have a big idea, get big fast. If you are playing with the big boys (e.g., banking, technology, healthcare, energy, auto), you can risk going it alone, but do so at your own peril. The easiest way to get big is to partner with a bigger company. If BofA said "no thanks" in 2001, Every Penny Counts should have immediately gone to every other bank with the idea (and maybe they did). The bigger your partner, the smaller the chance your patent will be infringed upon and the greater your ability to defend it. • Keep detailed records. Patent or no patent, make sure you keep detailed records of any people you talk to (use a nondisclosure agreement) and meetings you have (receive consent to record them if possible). Keep trip receipts (e.g., flight, rental car, hotel) if you are going to a potential partner's office.

Get good advice. Sometimes it pays to get some good legal/business advice from someone who's seen it all before. It's a good way to avoid rookie mistakes.

Some might say my friend and I "wasted" our other 8 hours because our big idea to change the world is DOA, but I completely disagree. We had a lot of fun thinking about this idea and we sharpened our entrepreneurial skills. We won't launch this venture, but we'll mentally file away what we've learned for the future. Your best idea probably isn't your first. Keep brainstorming and keep researching. The next idea to change the world might come to you at the office, at home, or even at a bar in Vegas . . . (WriterGal39, CC 2.0)

For a limited time, you can download several free resources (assessment, poster, audio interview, video, and more) at www.other8hours.com and learn more about my new book, The Other 8 Hours: Maximize Your Free Time to Create New Wealth & Purpose.

Copyright © 2009 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. www.yourother8hours.com

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