By: Raad Ahmed
So, you’ve created something: Congratulations! You’d better protect it, and quickly. There are several ways to protect your intellectual property, and we’ll go over the most common ones below. As you will see, the process of protecting your work is determined by what sort of work you’ve created. If you’re ever in doubt, a quick consultation with an attorney is a great way to make sure all your i’s are dotted and your t’s are crossed.
To protect a work of art or literature, you will need a copyright. You can obtain copyright protection by filing an application with the United States Copyright Office. For most works, the process will be fairly straightforward. First, you’ll need to choose the appropriate form: There’s one form for literary works, another for visual arts, another for sound recordings, and so on. You’ll need to furnish details such as the title of the work, the author, and the creation date. Once your form is in, it can take several months to receive copyright protection, but the process is well worth doing, especially since the fees for copyright applications are quite low.
If you’ve invented something—an object that’s never existed before, or a new way of solving a problem—you need to apply for a patent as soon as possible. You’ll be dealing with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), which offers several types of patent applications.
To prevent others from using your invention without your consent, apply for a utility patent. If you’ve invented a beautiful new chair, you can’t patent sitting, but you may be able to patent your unique design. In this case, you’ll need a design patent. If time is of the essence (and it often is, when you and lots of other talented adventures are working on solving the same problem), you’ll want to file a provisional application for patent. This gives your application priority over others that may be filed later, and it allows you to affix the “patent pending” label to your invention, discouraging others from copying it or using it without permission.
A patent is granted in exchange for public disclosure of your invention. So, though you may have been toiling away in secret up till now, you need to start spilling the beans. With any patent application, you may need to furnish detailed explanations, technical data, and drawings of your invention.
A trademark is a unique identifier for your goods and/or services. Trademarks are granted through the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Once you have settled on your trademark, you’ll need to determine its format. It may be a standard character format (for example, you may wish to protect a name, but not specify the font or colors used, or any other design elements); it could be a stylized/design format (a logo); or it may be a sound mark.
You’ll need to list all the goods and services that will be covered by your trademark, which can be tedious, but is nonetheless vitally important. You’ll also need to search the USPTO database for similar trademarks, to be sure the one you want is available.
You will then need to provide the USPTO with your basis for filing: either “use in commerce” or “intent to use.” Basically, if you are already in business, and you already use the mark on all the goods and services you listed earlier, file under “use in commerce.” If you have a startup at the business-plan stage, you probably haven’t used the mark in the course of business yet (because you haven’t conducted any business), but you may intend to do so later. In this case, file under “intent to use.”
Lastly, file your application and pay the fees. Depending on your business, these can add up, as they are often levied “per class of goods or services.” Trademark applications can be submitted electronically via the USPTO website, but for the best chance of getting everything you can out of your trademark, consider getting a qualified attorney on your side.