Legal and Regulatory

Intellectual Property

What is intellectual property?

Intellectual property is any product of the human intellect that the law protects from unauthorized use by others. The ownership of intellectual property inherently creates a limited monopoly in the protected property. Intellectual property is traditionally comprised of four categories: copyright, trademark, patent, and trade secrets.

Risk undoubtedly takes many forms. The risk of someone stealing your trade secrets may seem far fetched, but you also want to protect yourself in the event that somebody is using your logo, designs, writing, etc. potentially without your knowledge or passing it off as their own work. Luckily, you can get a trademark or patent for your own intellectual property like a logo or secret recipes, so that people cannot use your trade secrets without your permission.

Consider whether or not you want to invest the time and money in trademarks, copyrighting, or patents. All of these are forms of intellectual property protection, just for different parts of your business or product.

What is a copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection for original works such as books, music, paintings, movies, photographs, recipes and certain other intellectual works, both published and unpublished. This protects you from others reproducing, distributing, displaying, or making money from your original work without your permission. Generally, a copyright protects your work for your lifetime plus 70 years.

  • Copyrights are exclusively regulated by federal law and must be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office to be enforceable.

  • A work must meet certain minimum requirements to qualify for copyright protection. The length of protection also varies depending on when the work was created or first published.

  • Give notice of your copyright by putting on original and reproduced piece the copyright mark (“©”)


How to register a copyright?

  1. Register your copyright by completing an application. You must register if you plan to bring someone to court for infringement.

    • Online: Applications take ~4 months to get processes

      • Register with the US Copyright Office, start now

      • Pay $35 fee

    • Mail in: Applications take about 7 months to get processed

      • Download the form from the Internet or pick up a copy at your small business administration office and mail it in

      • Pay $65 fee

  2. For more detailed information, read this article by the US Copyright Office

What is a trademark?

A trademark is a word, name, symbol, or design, or any combination thereof, used to identify and distinguish the products from one manufacturer or seller from others. A servicemark is the same as a trademark except that it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than a product. The terms “trademark” and “mark” are commonly used to refer to both trademarks and servicemarks. For example, the Nike Swoosh logo is a trademark of Nike. In this way, other brands can’t just use the Nike Swoosh on their shoes or apparel and pass it off as a Nike product without express permission from Nike. If a company is caught using this trademark without permission, Nike can sue if necessary. Other common trademarks are logos and slogans. You should search for existing trademarks to double check your idea is not already taken.

  • The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) is responsible for issuing and monitoring federally registered patents and trademarks

  • In the United States, you are not required to register your marks to obtain protectable rights. You can establish “common law” rights in a mark based solely on use of the mark in commerce, without a registration.

    • Use the trademark symbol (“TM”) on printed materials - put it after logo, word or phrase to provide local protection

    • Use the register symbol (“®”) to provide nationwide protection'

  • Consider if you want to register your trademark by completing an application. This gives you the right to

    • Sue in federal court

    • Let others know you own the mark

    • List your mark in the USPTO’s database

    • Register with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to prevent importation of infringing foreign goods

    • The right to use the federal registration symbol “®

    • U.S. registration as a basis to get recognized/registered in foreign countries.

How to register a trademark?
  1. Select your mark

  2. Search the USPTO database to make sure no one else is using the same trademark

  3. Two basic requirements must be met for a mark to be eligible for trademark protection: it must be in use in commerce and it must be distinctive

  4. Consider hiring a trademark attorney

  5. Apply

    • Online: 3 months to complete

      • Non-refundable $225 - $400 fee

    • Mail or hand deliver a paper application to the USPTO. You can call the USPTO's automated telephone line at (800) 786-9199 to obtain a printed form.

  6. For more detailed information, read this article by the Patent and Trademark Office

What are patents?

A patent gives the owner the right to be the exclusive maker and seller of the invention covered by the patent. New devices, methods, or processes can be protected by a patent. That means that the patent owner has control over who can use the invention for a limited number of time, usually 20 years for utility and plant patents, design patent are usually for 14 years from the filing date. U.S. patent grants are effective only within the United States, U.S. territories, and U.S. possessions.

There are three types of patents: Utility, design and plant. Read the USPTO Fee Schedule to learn about associated fees.

  1. Utility: For a process or machine. Most patent applications are for a utility patent. A utility patent protects any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture (items that can be made), composition of matter (mixtures of ingredients or new chemical compounds), or any new, useful improvements to an existing invention. They cost around $1,500-$15,000 and unlike other patent types, utility patents have maintenance fees.

  2. Design: For original graphical representations. They cost around $1,500-$3,000. A design patent gives you legal claim to your original design, the ability to use and sell it, and the right to profit from the unique look of an object. Design patents only protect the look of an object. They aren't the same as utility patents, which cover how objects work and how they're used. A design has to meet some basic requirements to qualify for a patent:

    • It doesn't affect the function of an object.

    • It is integral to an object and can't be removed.

  3. Plant: For flora and fauna. A plant patent is for newly invented strains of asexually reproduced plants. To be patentable, the plant must have been asexually propagated. These are plants that reproduce by means other than from seeds, such as by the rooting of cuttings using layering, budding, grafting, or inarching. They cost around $1,500-$10,000

How to get a patent?
  1. Keep a Written Record of Your Invention'

  2. Make sure your idea is original and that it is not already patented, research is key!

  3. Types of applications

    • Full regular patent application (RPA)

      • The key elements of a patent are: specification, claims, abstract, and drawings

    • Provisional patent application (PPA): Allows you to claim "patent pending" status for the invention and involves only a small fraction of the work and cost of a regular patent application.

      Pay associated feeds: $65 for micro-entities, $130 for small entities, $260 for large companies

      • Include a detailed description of the invention, telling how to make and use it and an informal drawing

      • File an RPA within a year of filing the PPA

  4. Apply for a patent with US Patent & Trademark Office.

    1. Online: 3 months to complete

      • Pay 4 types of fees: Application, Examination, Patent Search and Issuing

    2. Mail or hand deliver a paper application to the USPTO. You can call the USPTO's automated telephone line at (800) 786-9199 to obtain a printed form.

  5. For more detailed information, read this article by the Patent and Trademark Office

Pro Tip

Before getting started, make sure you have the budget to pay for the fees associated with patents, which can be pretty hefty. Make sure you have an actual working model or a design on paper of your useful invention and consider hiring a patent attorney or patent agent -the USPTO strongly recommends using one.

For more information, read all about copyrights, patents, trademarks and more through the US Patent and Trademark Office.