Note: we do not provide legal advice. You should consult with a lawyer if you have any legal questions.

As an entrepreneur or new business owner, one of your main concerns is how to protect your hard work and product creations.

You may be wondering what actions you need to take to be sure that another company doesn’t steal your product or service inventions. Do I need copyright, trademark or patent to secure my product rights? How do I obtain one? How much does it cost and how long does it take?

Read on my business friend to learn about IP – intellectual property.

Types of intellectual property protection

The US Copyright Office  grants three types of protection for different forms of intellectual property:

  • Patents are for protecting inventions and discoveries such as machines, devices, electronics, and items.
  • Copyrights protect author’s original works such as books, music, plays, sculpture and performance art.
  • Trademarks protect words, phrases, symbols and designs, i.e. brands and logos, that identify company’s sources, and differentiates them from other competing businesses.

Patents

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) grants inventors the rights to prevent other people from using, selling, or manufacturing their invention either within the US or importing into the US.

There are three types of US patents available for application:

  1. Utility patent –  designed to protect new and useful processes and inventions of machines, manufacturing or composition of matter.
  2. Design patent – to safeguard ornamental designs that are original and novel for manufacturing.
  3. Plant patents – for the discovery of a new variety of living plant.

Copyrights

Original, published or unpublished, works of art, including drama, music, literary, architecture and computer software are protected by copyrights.

You don’t have to formally submit a copyright registration, because in theory your work is copyrighted as it is created. However, if you want higher protection against copyright infringement, you must register your work as part of the public record and obtain a registration certificate from the US government.

Trademarks

Trademarks are for words, phrases, icons, symbols, images, or designs that identify your product brand, as opposed to other brands in the marketplace.

Perhaps you are confused between the word service mark and trademark. The difference is that service marks are to protect services as opposed to products which with trademarks.

In the same manner that copyrights do not need to be formally registered neither do trademarks. You can add the symbols, SM for service mark or TM for trademark, to your products and services without registration. But, your products must be available for sale commercially to activate your trademark rights.

Know that business experts highly recommend that you formally register your important brand elements, such as business name, logo and slogans to establish a claim, notify the public, and your competitors, of your intellectual property rights.

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FAQ about intellectual property

Do I need to file a trademark for my business name?

It is not mandatory, but it is recommended. Since your company’s name is one of your most important, and valuable assets. It is a good idea to file for trademark registration to prevent other companies from using your brand name.  If your business name is indeed eligible for protection with trademark registration, it’s a relatively simple process that gives you nationwide protection.

A trademark will identify the brand of services and goods. Logos, symbols, icons, slogans, taglines names of products and company names can all be trademarks. In common law, you obtain your trademark by using these elements in commerce. But, you only get safeguards within your immediate geographic area that is only good for small local businesses. Thus, internet businesses with an international scope are highly encouraged to register for trademark protection.

If you are unable or do not want to trademark your name. You can have limited protection within your state of incorporation or LLC formation by using your brand name as your trade name. Be aware that this is only good within the state, in which you Incorporated or have your limited liability company.

How can I protect my business logo?

You can protect your logo from being ripped off, duplicated, mimicked by dishonest competitors with trademark infringement protection. The most common problem is when another company designs logo confusingly similar to yours, which your customers may unknowingly purchase the competitor’s product thinking it is your brand name.

  • Begin immediately by adding the trademark symbol, the letters TM, even before official registration.
  • Next conduct a trademark name search to determine if another company previously registered the same name. You want to be sure to resolve any conflicts before submitting your registration application to save both time and money.
  • Then proceed to register your trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), either yourself or with a professional legal firm such as my favorite LegalZoom.

Be sure to carefully evaluate your logo to determine which words or symbols are your brand identification. Common symbols, which are in public usage, will be rejected.

Government filing fees range from $325-$335. Once your application has been submitted it will take up to 10 business days to receive a serial number receipt which is your proof of submission.

The USPTO will take up to 6 months to review your application for approval or denial. Sometimes, if there complicated and some elements of your logo were registered by other companies. The process can be delayed by months or sometimes years.

If you receive trademark approval. You will need to renew that trademark approval every five years and pay additional government filing fees and submit an Affidavit of Use.

What is a Poor Mans Copyright and is it viable?

The old-fashioned practice of sending yourself a copy of your work and keeping it sealed in an envelope was referred to as the poor man’s copyright. Be advised that there is no such protection under copyright law for this practice, nor is it considered a substitute for copyright registration in the US copyright office. So skip it.

Is there such a thing as an international trademark?

No. However, you can get trademark protection for a number of countries by filing an International Application under the Madrid protocol. This is an international treaty, which allows trademark owners to try and obtain protection in the countries that are contained within the Madrid protocol.  The International Bureau of the World Property Intellectual Organization, in Geneva, Switzerland administers the international registration system.

Is there free help available from the US patent and trademark office?

Yes. You can get basic information free about the system for trademark registration and patent application, forms, fee schedules and services of the USPTO  by telephoning their toll-free number, 800-PTO-9199 or 571-272-1000.

24 hours a day, and automated message system is available with information to frequently asked questions and the ability to order documents free of charge.

If you want to reach a customer representative to answer your specific questions or to order free information, contact the office at the above telephone numbers: 8:30 AM – 8:00 PM ET, Monday-Friday excluding federal holidays.

Also, check out the Inventor’s Assistance Center for patent information and services for the public.

You also can get procedure questions answered about trademarks at the Trademark Electronic Business center