A while ago I pointed out that imitation happens. Call it coincidence, collective unconscious, bad timing, or plagiarism, there's a lot of work out there that will seem like derivations of derivations.
Troy points us to a New York Times article that shows how extensive this is. Honda and Subway using the same song. AT&T and Riverbed Technology using the same concept. Dell, Sears and WalMart all trying to own the word "wish." At least three times in my career I've produced an idea that launched at the same time a similar idea was introduced.
There's no guarantee that the brilliant idea you just came up with isn't strikingly similar to the one a team in Miami or Atlanta just came up with. That's where your craft comes in.
Look at it this way: E.T. was a hit. Mac and Me was such a flop, most of you won't even remember it.
Both movies were based on the same idea: Alien stranded on earth is befriended by a boy. I don't think Mac and Me was a blatant ripoff of E.T. It's just an easy idea for anyone to have. But it was horribly executed. Bad script. Bad effects. Bad directing. Bad actors. Bad, bad, bad.
The only way you can protect your ideas is to make them as great as possible. And the only way to do that is to keep working at them.