LegalZoom.com recently created a blog post that discussed the issue of ideas vs the expression of those ideas, and what can be protected under US law. Essentially, it comes down to reducing the idea to writing as a first step -- just because someone had an idea before anyone else doesn't mean they automatically have the rights to a patent or copyright to it.
The article can be found here: http://dld.bz/ad8tv
In the coming weeks, we plan to post a series of articles on intellectual property, patents, trademarks, copyrights and licensing from our perspective. Enable IPC stands for "Intellectual Property Commercialization" (i.e., turning technologies into products). We think we will have quite a bit of interesting information to share on the subject.