Many businesses create intellectual property that needs to be protected from being copied or misused. The world of patents, trademarks and copyright protection can be complex. We’ve answered some of the more common questions about intellectual property protection, so you can decide on the type of protection your business needs.
What Is Intellectual Property?
Intellectual property is a piece of work or invention that’s produced as part of a creative process. To apply for intellectual property protection, you will need to have the rights to that piece of work or invention. Examples of intellectual property might include:
- Your business name or a brand name that you’ve developed
- Computer programs or other unique technologies
- Logos and other business imagery
- Visual, written and other creative works
- Slogans and product names
How Can I Protect My Business’s Intellectual Property?
There are three main ways to protect your intellectual property:
- Trademarks that provide exclusive rights to names, phrases, words, symbols and designs of your business or brand
- Patents that protect inventions and prevent others from copying them, including processes, machines, manufactured articles and compositions
- Copyright that protects creative works like books, articles, software code, photographs and other creative works that exist in a tangible form
The type of protection you need depends on the format of your intellectual property.
What Is Patent Protection?
Patents are a property right that excludes others from making, using, selling or importing an invention protected by the patent. Patents come in two varieties:
- Utility patents that protect an invention or process, like a particular piece of software
- Design patents that protect a design, like the shape of a piece of jewelry
Patents are typically provided for a limited term and only protect intellectual property in the territory where they are granted. They can help you get entry to a particular market, exclude others from a market and can also be sold or licensed to others.
How to Get a Patent
Applying for a patent can be complex and expensive, so in most cases, we would recommend hiring an attorney who specializes in patent law. If you choose not to use an attorney, you can apply for a patent yourself with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
You should keep a written record of your invention or design and ensure that your work is patentable. You will also need to search previous patents to ensure your work is unique and applicable for patent protection. If you believe that you can patent your work, you can start an application with the USPTO.
Please be aware that applying and being granted a patent can take several years and could cost thousands of dollars.
What Is Trademark Protection?
Trademarks and service marks identify and protect the brand and goods of a business. Trademarks can be used for words (e.g., slogans and phrases), names (e.g., product and brand names), symbols and logos. If a creative work falls into one of these categories and is distinctly related to your company, brand or products, you may be able to trademark it.
You cannot typically trademark creative works like software, articles and similar creative content, as they would be covered by copyright. You also can’t typically trademark processes, inventions and similar as they would be covered by patents.
How to Get a Trademark
Applying for a trademark is somewhat simpler than the patent process. You will initially need to conduct a trademark search to check that your trademark is unique. Once that’s completed, you can file an application with the USPTO.
Incfile provides a complete Trademark Search and Registration service that included professional legal advice, searching existing trademarks and communicating with the USPTO on your behalf.
What Is Copyright Protection?
Copyright protection typically covers original creative works like manuscripts, photographs, pictorial and graphical work, musical work, audiovisual work and some other types of creative endeavor. It’s very important that these works exist in a tangible form of expression, as you cannot copyright an idea.
How to Get Copyright Protection
Creative works are protected by copyright when you create them in a tangible form. You can also choose to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office, which will provide more formal protections.
Incfile’s Trademark Search and Registration service will help you to file your trademark applications. If you’re looking for a different type of protection, we also offer comprehensive business insurance through our partnership with Cover Wallet.