Your business is your pride and joy. One of the main reasons you wake up in the morning, and the source of stability for you, your family, and your many employees. And if getting your work done involves intellectual property, it’s crucial to take certain steps to protect it from someone else copying it and running off with your ideas. How can you prevent that from happening? And how do you know if you need a patent, a trademark, or copyright protection?
What is Intellectual Property?
Intellectual property (IP) refers to anything you own that you created as an original. This includes any type of intangible assets, including:
- The name of your business
- Related designs
- Written content
- Artistic and literary works
- Many more
Intellectual property laws exist to obtain rights over such property and to provide you with an avenue to protect it should an unauthorized person or entity choose to use them for their own benefit.
IP laws organize original works under four categories: patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets. How to protect your own IP depends on the type of work involved. Understanding these nuances will help you determine which type is necessary to protect your business.
What is a Patent?
Patents protect inventions. In order for something to be considered an invention, it has to be a new item or process. Such invention must include a detailed description of how to make it.
To protect an invention, you have to file a patent application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Keep in mind, however, that not everyone qualifies to apply for a patent. You’ll first need to do some research to find out whether someone else has already publicly disclosed such an invention. This is called a patent search.
Conducting a patent search can be a difficult and lengthy process, which is why having a patent attorney do this for you would be highly beneficial — especially if you’ve never done this before.
Once you determine that your invention is patentable, you’ll need to figure out the type of patent you need:
A utility patent protects the invention of a new product or machine. Protection lasts for 20 years from the date of filing.
A design patent protects original designs for items to be manufactured. Protection lasts 14 years from the date the patent protection is issued.
A plant patent protects the reproduction of distinct and new varieties of plants. Protection lasts 17 years from the date the patent protection is issued.
Once you’ve patented an invention with the USPTO, it’s crucial to pay all required maintenance fees to prevent an early expiration of the protection.
What is a Trademark?
A trademark refers to any word, phrase, design, and/or symbol that is part of your brand and business. However, having trademark protection doesn’t mean that you have absolute rights over the word or phrase. It only means that they cannot be used in connection with the same goods or services that you offer. So if someone came up with a very similar phrase as you did, they can still use it in connection to unrelated services.
In addition, be mindful that trademark protection will only apply within the geographic area where you provide your goods or services. To apply for a nationwide trademark protection, you also do it through the USPTO.
There are different symbols to let the public know you’ve received trademark protection. ™ refers to trademarked goods. “SM” refers to trademarked services. An “R” inside a circle (®) means you’ve registered your trademark with the USPTO.
Once a word, phrase, design, or symbol has been trademarked, protection lasts for ten years, and it can be renewed decade by decade.
What is Copyright Protection?
Copyright protection is provided to published and unpublished original works of authorship. These include:
- Literary works
- Music compositions
- Computer programs
- Architectural works
Copyrights give the owner of the rights to the exclusive use and reproduction of their work. To apply for such protection, you apply for it with the U.S. Copyright Office. Do keep in mind that work doesn’t have to be registered to be protected, but it does make it easier to file an infringement claim in the event a third party reproduces your work and/or passes it off as their own.
While everyone who creates original work is a copyright owner, it’s important to note that copyright laws also establish that it’s possible to obtain ownership through the concept of work for hire. This means that if the parties establish so at the beginning of a work relationship, original works created by an employee within the scope of their employment can be owned by the employer.
Copyright protection, as it currently stands, lasts for the life of the author/creator, plus 70 years after their death.
What Are Trade Secrets?
The term trade secrets refers to intellectual property that meets the following criteria:
- It’s not generally known
- Has actual or potential economic value because it is not generally known
- A company employs reasonable efforts to maintain it secret
All of these components must exist at the same time for the information to be considered as a trade secret. It covers any recipe, formula, process, or other information that is proprietary, but may not meet the requirements to apply for trademark or patent protection.
There is no formal process to apply for a trade secret with a government agency. To protect confidential information from being disclosed, you have protection such as non-disclosure agreements, the protections from the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (UTSA), and local laws.
If You Need a Patent, Trademark, or Copyright Protection, Sanchelima & Associates Can Help
Sanchelima & Associates, P.A. is one of the leading intellectual property law firms in South Florida. With over 40 years of experience, we have represented the IP interests of a wide array of businesses, including Fortune 500 companies — and we can do business in the United States and internationally. Whether you need a consultation or prosecution of a patent, trademark or copyright, we can protect your business’s interests.
Contact us to schedule an appointment.