I’m big on taking measures to protect your company. There are lots of ways to do that, and if you’re talking about intellectual property — think: your brand name, logo, slogan, even social media username — there are several options that will keep your brand safe.
Option 1: Trademarks
A trademark is a word, phrase, name, or symbol that identifies the source of a product or service and makes it unique from the competition. You can trademark a company name, product name, logo, or tagline to ensure that no one else will use them.
You don’t actually have to register your trademark with the USPTO (US Patent and Trademark Office), though it’s a good idea. Simply by putting the ™ symbol behind whatever you want trademarked gives you “common law” rights and keeps others from being able to use it.
Filing an official trademark with the USPTO will give you an additional layer of legal protection and will make it easier for you to seek legal action, should anyone try to use your trademarked material. After a trademark is registered with the USPTO, you have the right to use ® in your trademark.
To trademark your business name, file an application with the USPTO — you can file either directly with the USPTO or have an online legal filing service handle it for you. You’ll pay approximately $325 per class in application fees that your mark would fall under, plus the fees for assistance if you don’t file it yourself. The process can take about 6-12 months once you submit your application.
Trademark Tip: Before starting your trademark application, perform a comprehensive business name search to make sure your name is available.
Option 2: Copyrights
A copyright protects ‘original works of authorships,’ and can include literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and other intellectual works. For your business, that would include website copy, a graphic you designed, or a video. Even computer code can be copyrighted.
Did you know that as soon as you write and publish the copy on your website, computer code, etc., you automatically own a copyright for this work? You can even use the copyright symbol © and use the terminology “All Rights Reserved.”
Again, officially registering your copyright provides an extra layer of protection. You can register online through the U.S. Copyright Office or have a legal online filing service help you.
Once you copyright your intellectual property, no one can reproduce or distribute your work, nor make money from it. Copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years.
Copyright Tip: If it’s important that you copyright your material in multiple countries, that is possible, but only in specific countries. Some countries offer no copyright protection to foreign works. You can find out which countries protect what in the U.S. Copyright Office’s publication: “International Copyright Relations of the United States.”
Option 3: Patents
A patent gives an inventor exclusive rights to manufacture, use, or sell an invention for a set number of years. You can patent tangible things as well as software processes, product design, and other inventions.
Unlike the other two options, you’re not automatically patented as soon as you dream up an amazing idea. You have to apply for a patent through the USPTO, and the patent application is a rather complex legal document! Many patent applicants turn to a lawyer or patent filing service to assist, since it’s so detailed a process.
Acquiring a patent can take up to six years, and doesn’t come cheap. If you work with a lawyer, you can pay $7K-15K in attorney fees.
Even before your patent application is approved, you can qualify as “patent pending.” Once you submit your patent paperwork to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, you’ve secured your priority date. Even though the paperwork isn’t processed, no other company can use your idea or file a similar patent.
Patent Tip: If you’re interested in seeking funding from investors, holding a patent (or having a patent pending) may make you more appealing.