Entrepreneurs and business owners need to understand the basics of intellectual property law to best protect their hard-earned creations and ideas from unfair competition. Here are four main types of intellectual property that you can use to protect your business.
Copyrights protect original works of authorship, such as literature, music, artistic works, and computer software. As the holder of a copyright, you have the exclusive right to reproduce, adapt, and distribute the work. A copyright exists from the moment the work is created, so registration is voluntary.
However, registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney’s fees in a copyright infringement suit, so it is recommended that you register at the U.S. Copyright Office. You can register your copyright online by completing an application, submitting a non-refundable fee of $35, and sending in a non-returnable copy of your work.
The average processing time for e-filed and paper applications is 2.5 months and 5.6 months, respectively. The duration of the copyright depends on several factors, but generally for works created after Jan. 1, 1978, the copyright lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years and is non-renewable. You can visit the U.S. Copyright Office for more information or visit sites online to find more info on how to get a copyright.
A patent grants property rights on inventions, allowing the patent holder to exclude others from making, selling or using the invention. You obtain a patent by filing an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
There are 3 types of patents: utility, design and plant. A utility patent is the most common type, and it covers any process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvements thereof.
To qualify for a utility patent, the invention must be novel, non-obvious, and have some usefulness.
A design patent covers any new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture, while a plant patent covers any new variety of asexually-produced plant. A design patent lasts 14 years, and a utility or plant patent lasts 20 years.
The patent application process is complicated and could cost thousands of dollars, so the USPTO recommends that you hire a qualified patent attorney or agent to file your patent. To maintain the force of the patent, you must pay fees due at 3.5, 7.5 and 11.5 years after the patent grant. The total amount of maintenance fees for a small entity (such as an independent inventor) is $4,430, while for others the total is $8,860. The USPTO website has more information about patent applications.
A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, or design that distinguishes the source of the goods of one business from its competitors. For example, the Nike “swoosh” design identifies shoes that are made by Nike.
Although rights in trademarks are acquired by use, registration with the USPTO makes it easier to enforce those rights. Before registering your trademark, you should conduct a search of federal and state databases to ensure a similar trademark doesn’t already exist. For example, depending on the state you can find all the information for getting a trademark in New York by an experienced trademark attorney in NYC at sites like UpCounsel.
To apply, you must have a clear representation of the mark, as well as an identification of the class of goods or services to which the mark will apply. You can submit an online application, and filing fees vary according to several factors, including the form type and the number of classes of goods or services. Filing an application is complicated, so most applicants hire an attorney who specializes in trademarks. For more information, visit the USPTO website.
4. Trade Secrets
A trade secret is a formula, process, device, or other business information that companies keep secret to give them an advantage over their competitors.
Examples of trade secrets are: soda formulas, customer lists, survey results, and computer algorithms. Unlike the other types of intellectual property, you can’t obtain protection by registering your trade secret. Instead, protection lasts only as long as you take the necessary steps to control disclosure and use of the information.
Businesses use non-disclosure agreements, restricted access to confidential information, post-employment restrictive covenants, and other security practices to maintain trade secrets.
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