Understanding Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights

Patents, trademarks and copyrights are collectively known as intellectual property and generally refer to the rights associated with intangible knowledge or concepts. Intellectual property may be a concern not only if your business is developing (or has developed) a product, process, or concept that you are taking to market, but also to protect your business name and identity. First, you’ll need to understand the differences, and how to perform a patent, copyright, or trademark search.

Patents

  • What is a patent? A patent is a grant of a right to the inventor by the government. The patent gives the inventor (or patent holder, if the patent has been assigned) the right to exclude others from making or using the invention for a select time period—usually 20 years.
  • How do you search for patents already registered? To learn whether someone already has a patent on a product, process or concept you’re considering, you can perform a patent search online at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website.
  • How do you register a patent? You must file a patent application with the USPTO. The patent application can be filed online at the USPTO website. Patent application costs vary by the type of filing. You can view the full fee schedule online.

Trademarks

  • What is a trademark? A trademark is the right to use a specific name, word, phrase, symbol, logo, design, sound or color (or a combination of elements) to identify your products and distinguish them from other products. The name must be sufficiently unique—you can't obtain trademark rights to a generic term like "computers" or "coffee." A service mark is similar, but refers to the right to use a name to identify the source of services, and distinguish that source from other service providers.
  • How do you perform a trademark search to determine if it’s already registered? There are different types and levels of searches. You can conduct a free online trademark search on the USPTO website, but this will only show existing and abandoned federal trademarks and pending trademark applications that are exact matches to the word or phrase you entered. There are also state and common law trademarks. Our Trademark Explorer™ is an online trademark search tool that uses advanced screening features and logic and shows you newly filed trademark applications, active registrations, and cancelled and abandoned trademarks. It also provides access to the most current state trademark data, but in order to have a comprehensive view of federal, state and common law marks that go beyond exact matches, you would need to conduct a professional trademark search with a company such as Corsearch.
  • How do you register a trademark? Common law usage of a name or logo begins as soon as you start using it in commerce (using the ™  symbol), but protection for common law marks is limited. In order to register a trademark, you must undertake a filing with the USPTO. Pricing is $375 per class for paper filings and $325 per class for electronic filings. Once your registration has been approved, you can begin using the ® symbol.

Copyrights

  • What is a copyright? A copyright is a form of protection provided to authors of original works of authorship, including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. Copyright protection is available both on published and unpublished works, including works transmitted online. You don’t need to register a copyright to have copyright protection. A copyright is secured automatically when the work is created. Using the copyright symbol © along with the year of first publication (or creation for unpublished works), and the author’s name signify the copyright. For example, © 2010 BizFilings. Copyright infringement can be avoided by showing that the work in question was created independently of the copyrighted work.
  • How do you search for copyrights already registered? There is not a way to perform a copyright search like there is patents and trademarks; however, in today’s world, doing a Google search for particular text or creations will, in many cases show if such a work already exists.
  • How do you register a copyright? While copyright registration is not necessary, copyright law provides advantages to those who have filed a legal copyright. For example, in order to file a copyright infringement lawsuit in court, registration is necessary. Filing a copyright with the United States Copyright Office costs $35 for an online filing. Paper filings range from $50 to $65.

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