Whether you have a business logo, a song, or a screenplay, you want to protect your intellectual property. Intellectual property refers to the creative works that an individual produces; these may or may not be tangible. Intellectual property can include music, writing, art, movies, paintings, and more. Your intellectual property can define your business, bring you recognition, and increase the value of your business immensely. It is of the utmost importance that you protect your intellectual property, and you have four channels in the United States to do so: copyright protection, trademarks, patents and trade secrets. We will confine our discussion to the first three.
Copyright is the protection of “original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression.” Copyrights apply to physical works, and gives legal rights to the creator of the work to print, publish, or perform that work and create derivatives. This work must be original, that is, produced without copying or modifying existing work. Copyright protects written works, music, plays, choreography, artwork, movies, architectural designs, computer programs and websites. Copyright applies only to the physical representation of your ideas, not the ideas or concepts themselves. This makes it important that you put that idea or concept in some physical form in which it can be reproduced. If you copyright your works, they may not be reproduced, performed, or displayed without your permission. There can be some gray area with copyright law such as fair use and parody, so it is important that if you have a copyright issue that you seek competent legal advice as soon as possible. Copyright protection is automatic once fixed in a tangible medium of expression, however, registering your copyright before someone infringes your work is important as it gives you additional benefits and remedies that you might not otherwise have, including suing someone in federal court for infringement. You can officially register your work with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). You may be able to do this yourself, but sometimes the application can be tricky and it may be wise and time-efficient to hire a competent attorney to handle this for you for a small fee.
The USPTO defines a trademark as “ a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others”. Brand names, logos, and slogans can all fall under the umbrella of trademarks, and unlike patents and copyrights, trademarks do not expire. As long as it stays in use, and you renew at the appropriate times, your trademark will still be valid 200 years from now. As with copyright, registering your trademark with the USPTO gives you greater rights, benefits, use and legitimacy. If your trademark is registered with the USPTO you are entitled to use the ® symbol. Without such registration, you will only be entitled to use the ™ symbol for your mark, which will give your mark less protection from infringement. Trademarks can cover a large number of things that copyrights and patents cannot, including things such as: sounds (Think the NBC chimes), trade dress (Think Apple stores), color (Kodak yellow), and of course symbols such as the Nike swoosh. A trademark is particularly helpful if you have a product or service that other people provide as well; trademarks set your brand apart and help with recognition and credibility. You can register for a trademark by filing a “use” or “intent to use” application and consistently using the correct symbol after your brand name. A trademark must be unique and distinct, to help your product stand out from others of a similar design or function. This is why so many trademarked logos have unique spellings—to set them apart from the competition and make them memorable. Either way, trademarking your business name, logo and products can create tremendous value for your company.
Although we here at INTELLEQUITY® (notice the use of the trademark symbol) do not practice in the area of patent law, I will touch upon them briefly. Patents are appropriate for designs and inventions that are considered novel, non-obvious, and useful. To be novel, your work must not be known in this country, or patented in any publication, or for sale. It must be something that is truly your own creation, not dependent on other people’s information or ideas. It also cannot be something that is obvious, and already available to the common person. And it must be truly useful. You can invent many things, but are they useful? If you have satisfied all of these points, your ideas may be able to be patented. To obtain a patent you need full public disclosure of your work, and you will either get a utility patent that protects the function of an invention or a design patent that protects the appearance of an invention. A patent protects your ideas from being reproduced and sold by someone else commercially, until the patent expires. Utility patents are generally good for 20 years and design patents are generally for 15 years; once a patent expires others can use the ideas to produce their own products. It is mandatory that you find competent counsel to guide you in the early stages of any Patent prosecution.
Which One Is Right For Me?
Sometimes it is quite clear when you are deciding which type of protection to use for your Intellectual property, and other times it can become complex where more than one type of protection may be available to protect a particular piece of IP. Authors, artists, and other creatives often seek to copyright their physical creations, while business owners use trademarks to set their slogan or logo apart and define their product. Patents will be used by inventors and designers who seek to protect their unique ideas. Areas such as software become more complex and may utilize all three forms of intellectual property protection. Sometimes you will need to decide upon choosing trade secret protection or patent protection for certain properties. A competent attorney can give you advice and direction in these situations and Jim Boness at INTELLEQUITY in Portland, Oregon has the experience in dealing with intellectual property to help you navigate what protection you may need. Do you need a copyright, trademark, patent or some other intellectual property assistance? Call INTELLEQUITY today to get started!