If you are self-employed or are a small business owner, and need a command of the process of intellectual property protection, below is a summary of the basics as well as links to other resources that can help set you on your way.
According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, companies that protect their intellectual property drive more economic growth in the U.S. than any other single sector.
The unfortunate flip side of this fact is that small businesses are more vulnerable than any other sector to piracy, counterfeiting, and the theft of their intellectual property. Small business owners often at times simply don’t have access to the intellectual property protection know-how that larger corporations do.
Understanding the Difference between Patenting and Other Forms of Intellectual Property
There are essentially three forms of intellectual property: patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Each has a distinct definition and relevance to the small business owner looking to protect inventions, brand, or intellectual works:
- Patents - A patent for an invention is the grant of a property right to the inventor. Patents are granted for new, useful and non-obvious inventions for a period of 20 years from the filing date of a patent application, and provide the right to exclude others from exploiting the invention duringthat period.
- Trademarks A trademark is different to a patent since it only protects words, names, symbols, sounds, or colors that distinguish goods and services. Trademarks, unlike patents, can be renewed forever as long as they are being used in commerce.
- Copyright The Library of Congress registers copyrights, which last for the life of the author plus 70 years. Books, movies andmusical recordings are all examples of copyrighted works.
How to Apply for a Patent
There are three types of patents that you can apply for based on the nature of your invention – utility patents, design patents, or plant (of the green variety) patents. A useful starting point is to find out what can and cannot be patented. You can call the United States patent office for assistance.
To get a patent you will need to process an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. This is a complex process, and almost all experts recommend that patent-seekers retain the services of a registered patent attorney or patent agent to prepare and prosecute their applications.
How to Register Your Trademark
If you want to stake a claim on your trademark through the use of the ‘TM’ (trademark),’SM’ (service mark) or the ‘(R)’ federal registration symbol, you’ll need to follow these steps:
- Determine whether your product is eligible for a trademark
- Conduct a trademark search
- Register for the trademark online (for a fee) via the Trademark Electronic Application System
Patents, Trademarks and Overseas Markets
Only 15 percent of small businesses that do business overseas realize that a U.S. patent only provides protection in the U.S. Below are the basics about intellectual property protection in overseas markets:
- OverseasPatents – Almost every country has its own patent law and you’ll need to follow the patent application process within the country in which you wish to protect your invention.
- International Trademarks - You can file for trademark registration, via a single application, in certain countries only if you are already a qualified owner of a trademark application pending before the U.S. Patent Office. If you want to protect your trademark overseas you’ll need to file for international trademark protection.
If you want to protect original works of authorship such as music, books, screenplays, etc. copyright law can protect published and unpublished works against illegal reproduction, distribution, performance, etc.