So you have your idea, product or service ready to bring to market, but you don’t know how to navigate the legal world. Almost everyone has heard the words “trademark,” “patent” and “copyright,” but few know what they mean or how they will function within their startup. It will be necessary for you, the entrepreneur, to seek legal help down the line to protect yourself and your intellectual property, but legal professional Workman Nydegger shared a few tips to get you started.
“If you want to make your mark, you need a trademark.”
Any person can trademark names, slogans and logos as long as they are used to identify the source of a product or service. Consider trademarking owner’s manuals, images and other marketing materials as well. Before you decide on these branding items, do your own thorough research to ensure that they are not already being used. An easy way to do this is by going to www.uspto.gov to search the U.S. official database. If you intend on using a trademark item across state lines, you must register it. As your business grows, you may want to contact an IP attorney.
“Patents are the bread and butter of new products.”
There are two types of patents: utility and design. Utility patents are classified for structural or technical work. These are typically used to protect machines, apps and pharma. It will take between two and four years to process, but the patent itself will last up to 20 years. Design patents can be defined as a protection for how something looks. The processing time is considerably shorter than a utility patent, only taking between a year to 18 months and it lasts approximately 15 years. While this patent is cheaper than a utility patent, the scope of its protection is narrow. In general, patents will only protect what you claim, so add “space” around what you are claiming by varying language and ideas so it becomes difficult for others to infringe upon it. The approval rate for patents sits between 65 and 70 percent.
Here are some more bonus pointers from Nydegger that you may have never considered:
- It is perfectly legal to sell a product in another country without a patent in that country. However, you will be unable to stop anyone there from making it themselves.
- Keep secret what you can. Trade secrets are the ultimate protection against copiers.
- Copyright may be better than a patent, but it is typically only used for creative work. It lasts the creator’s lifetime, plus 70 years.
- If you are ever lost on how to balance marketing and patents, trademarks or copyright, look to other similar products and services to model after.