When you’re trying to decide whether you need a copyright, trademark or patent, there’s a tremendous amount of information, often confusing or overlapping. Intellectual property protection is part of the bedrock of our legal system, and significant enough that the Founding Fathers enshrined it in the Constitution of the United States. They gave Congress the mandate to make laws, so you retain the ownership of your hard work:
“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”
The type of protection your work needs depends on what you’re trying to protect. Consider the following scenarios:
#1. You’ve just finished a movie script, and you want to send it to a producer you know but you also want to protect it. So many times you have heard about a writer’s work used without their permission. For this, what you need is copyright.
Copyright is used to protect original creative pieces including artwork, written word, and visual media like movies or videos. Copyrights expire 70 years after the death of the maker. In some cases a piece that is “work product,” or when the maker isn’t identified, such as with an anonymous work or with the use of a pseudonym copyright expires in the shorter of these two terms:
- 95 years after the original publishing date
- 120 years after its creation
# 2. You are selling a new product that is not necessarily your idea or invention. You still want to protect the product name and your brand so no one can use it to provide a different or inferior product or service. In this case what you seek is a trademark.
Trademark or Service Mark
Trademarking is the legal step taken to prevent an entity from using the same phrase, name, or branding in a way that would make it hard for another person to distinguish one product or brand from another. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) states simply, “it identifies and distinguishes the source of goods.”
Businesses may use a trademark, as well, for a service or process. The USPTO refers to this as a “service mark.” Trademarks and service marks are not renewable and do not expire; as long as the goods or services are still actively supplied by the owner, the mark is still current.
You often hear the term “registered trademark.” You may have noticed a circled R, indicating that particular set of words or a logo is proprietary. When trademarks registered with the federal government, it essentially gives you the legal footing if someone else unlawfully uses your intellectual property.
# 3. You’ve invented the best product ever, something that is a distinct improvement or different than anything else on the market. In this instance, you need a patent.
To gain a patent from the USPTO, an inventor or a representative must put together a set of documents which disclose the details of the item. It is possible to patent
“(…) machines, articles manufactured, industrial processes, and chemical compositions, as well as improvements to these.”
Patents do expire. Design patents expire after 14 years and utility patents expire in 20 years. Patents are not renewable, but unlike trademarks, once it has expired, it’s in the public domain. In certain circumstances, a patent term is extendable. For example, if the initial patent time frame was taken up by government delays. Newly patented drugs are often granted these extensions.
All three areas come under the heading of Intellectual Property, and in numerous circumstances, there are overlaps. IP law contains myriad nuances that require an understanding of the law and its flexibility. Connect with us today to leverage our experience with your business ideas to create valuable, sustainable, and protected intellectual property.