When you first become a small business owner, likely one of the last things on your mind is knowing the ins and outs of intellectual property law. Yet, you will quickly realize that it matters greatly.
So how do you know when to file a patent, a trademark or a copyright? Many new small business owners are unfamiliar with the intricacies of of these terms and think they are all the same thing. The truth is that each one represents something different.
We break down the differences between these three protections and what they do and don't protect.
What Is a Trademark?
A trademark gives you the legal ownership and protection rights over a design, logo, name, symbol, word, etc. A trademark is part of your brand that distinguishes it from other brands. A trademark is a valuable asset to have when you are a business owner.
Trademark registration can be a challenging process to navigate since it involves quite a bit of research and working with legal counsel. Here are the basic steps on how to register a trademark:
Do your research and ensure your potential business name isn’t already taken and trademarked. This is where Incfile can help! Our partnered attorneys will do the research to make sure the mark isn't already taken, ensure the filing gets accepted by the government office and provide sound legal advice throughout the entire process.
If the trademark is taken, you will have to go back to brainstorming a new business name, logo or phrase.
If it is not taken, then file for a trademark. Once again, Incfile can help! Our trademark package includes: legal counsel from an experienced trademark attorney, a thorough search of existing trademarks, a registered trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and handling of all correspondence with the USPTO until the name is approved.
If you do not work with Incfile, you most likely will still need to receive legal advice throughout the process to ensure you file correctly.
Do some of the legwork yourself and check that your trademark filing is accepted by the government office.
Finally, once it is approved, begin using your business name, logo, or phrase! It is all yours and only yours!
What Is a Patent?
A patent is a government authority or license granting a right or title for a set period of time, especially the sole right to exclude others from making, using or selling an invention. This is important for small businesses that have a unique technology or offering that no one else has on the market. You want to protect your innovation before another person or company takes it, passes it off as their own and then makes a profit.
According to the USPTO, there are three types of patents:
Utility patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof.
Design patents may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.
Plant patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant.
So what’s the difference between a trademark vs. patent? Well, a trademark protects a logo, name or phrase, whereas a patent protects the invention. For example, if you develop a special technology, you get the technology patented and the brand name trademarked.
What Is a Copyright?
Copyright is another form of protection provided to the authors of "original works of authorship," including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and certain other intellectual works, both published and unpublished. The 1976 Copyright Act grants the owner the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, perform, display, etc. the copyrighted work publicly.
So what’s the difference between copyright vs. patent? Again, a patent protects an invention, and a copyright protects works, unpublished or published.
Register Your Trademark Today!
Ready to register your business’s trademark? With Incfile’s assistance, you can receive a consultation with a trademark specialist and register your trademark for only $199 plus the federal fee. Get started or learn more today!
Lisa Crocco is a marketer for an international food manufacturer by day and a freelance writer/marketer for startups and small businesses by night. She's written for outlets like USA Today College, Career Contessa, CloudPeeps and Fairygodboss.