What’s the best way to protect a small business? Usually I respond by saying that a good place to start is to incorporate or form an LLC entity structure.
However, you cannot use legal training to protect business ideas. The best way to protect original business ideas is to apply for the appropriate form of protection: trademarks, copyrights, and patents.
How does each method help protect original ideas? Let’s take a look at what each term means and how these filings allow entrepreneurs to claim ownership of their intellectual property.
What is a registered trademark?
Every business has a brand. It could be your company name, logo, design, phrase, slogan, or even a brand mascot. These marks allow you to distinguish your business from its competitors and emphasize the uniqueness of the business in the world.
How does a brand protect intellectual property?
Registering a trademark allows the trademark owner to receive exclusive rights to these valuable forms of intellectual property.
Unregistered trademarks risk being counterfeited or plagiarized by third parties. It becomes much more difficult for the owner to fight for his mark because it has never been registered federally. However, this is not the case for registered trademarks. If someone attempts to use a registered trademark without permission, the owner can take legal action to ensure the protection of their intellectual property.
Before filing a trademark, do a name search. You can search the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s Electronic Trademark Search System (TESS) or work with a third-party trademark filing provider. Performing a search ensures that the mark is available and is not pending registration, or has already been registered, elsewhere. Once you find out that your trademark is available, you can start filing a trademark application.
What is copyright?
A copyright is sometimes confused with the same meaning as a trademark. Both are forms of intellectual property protection. However, a copyright is intended to protect original works from authorship. Some of these copyrighted works may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- literary works, such as books or poetry.
- Performing arts, such as music, lyrics and scripting.
- Visual arts, including works of art, paintings, sculpture and architecture.
- Animated images, such as movies, TV shows, and video games.
- Photographs, such as news photos, wedding photos, and even selfies.
- Digital content, including websites and blogs.
How does a copyright protect the author’s original works?
While we realize that much of this article is about the protection of business ideas, filing a copyright cannot protect an idea. Ideas, facts, systems and methods of operation may not be copyrighted, according to the US Copyright Office.
However, original works of authorship, whether published or not, are eligible for copyright registration. As soon as someone has created these works, they are considered to be the author of said works and will need a copyright to protect it.
Similar to filing a trademark, don’t forget to do a copyright search. This ensures that your copyright is unique and available before you file a copyright claim. You can search for registered copyrights using the US Copyright Office’s public catalog tool.
What is a patent?
A patent is a specific form of protection for companies. According to the USPTO, patents protect the mechanisms, principles and components of an invention. You may have invented or discovered a new invention, but how can you determine that this invention should receive a patent?
How does a patent protect inventions?
First of all, it is important to determine if you have an invention that can be granted a patent. This invention must be useful, and it must be in a category that positions it for patent eligibility, as being a process or a machine.
Once you understand that your invention can be patented, you can begin to explore patent options. There are currently three types of patents:
- Utility patents. These are the most common types of patents. This patent relates to inventions which are a new or useful useful process, machine, article of manufacture, composition of matter or improvement.
- Design patents. This patent is intended for inventors who invent a new, original and ornamental design for a manufactured item.
- Plant patents. If an inventor invents, discovers or asexually reproduces a new plant variety, the inventor will apply for a plant patent.
Unlike filing a trademark or copyright, a patent application requires a filing strategy. Consider working with a patent attorney if you have questions about the process. They will be able to determine what type of application you will file for a patent (which can be provisional or non-provisional), what you will need to complete the application and provide additional information about the filing fees to make sure you are ready. to file your patent. application for approval.