According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s stopfakes.gov Web site, companies that protect their intellectual property drive more economic growth in the U.S. than any other single sector.
If you’ve developed a new product, technology or tool that is entirely your own invention, how do you go about making sure your unique idea stays your unique idea, and most importantly reaps you a profit?
First, you’ll need to understand the fundamental differences between patenting, copyrighting, and trademarks and how you can leverage these to protect your invention, and ultimately your business interests. Then, you will need to turn your idea into a business reality. If you wish to sell and market the product yourself, this in itself requires the application of a few best practices.
Below is a brief explanation of the intellectual property options available to you, how you can pursue them, as well as some basic tips to get you started in business.
What’s the Difference Between Patents, Trademarks, and Copyright?
There are essentially three forms of intellectual property: patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Each has a distinct definition and relevance to the small business owner looking to protect inventions, brand, or intellectual works:
- Patents – A patent for an invention is the grant of a property right to the inventor; if you have invented a new product and want to market it, you will almost certainly be best advised to patent it.Patents are granted for new, useful and non-obvious inventions for a period of 20 years from the filing date of a patent application, and provide the right to exclude others from exploiting the invention during that period.Getting a patent can be a drawn-out process, and it’s worth investing in a good patent lawyer to help you navigate the process. And before you even start, check out Google Patents to make sure your invention hasn’t been patented already!
Find out more about how to get a patent.
- Trademarks – A trademark is different from a patent since it only protects words, names, symbols, sounds, or colors that distinguish goods and services. Trademarks, unlike patents, can be renewed forever as long as they are being used in commerce. If you intend to start a business and wish to trademark your product name or even your business name, start by searching the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office database. If your chosen name is unclaimed you can then register for the trademark online (for a fee).
Learn more about the trademark application process.
- Copyright – If your business involves creating original written works, music, or videos, they are covered by copyright laws, for a limited period of time. The Library of Congress registers copyrights, which last for the life of the author plus 70 years. You can register for copyright through the U.S. Copyright Office for a small fee of $35. Find out more about the process and benefits of copyrighting your work here.
Selling Your Invention – Starting Your Own Business
For many inventors, starting a business operation to market and sell their product can seem like a daunting task that requies taking off the inventor’s cap and donning a variety of other caps – from to marketer to sales person to accountant.