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If you have just invented a product, created a work of art or have developed a new process, you probably know that you need to protect your creation. But what is it to be – patents, copyrights or trademarks? It can all be a bit confusing. It’s easiest to determine what it is you need by understanding what each does. Let’s look at each and see how they can benefit you and your business.

  • Patents – A patent can protect your inventions. For example Velcro has a patent. Patent provides exclusive rights to make, use, import, sell and offer for sale the invention for up to 20 years. There are three types of patents:
  • Utility Patents – protect useful processes, machines, articles of manufacture, and compositions of matter. Examples: fiber optics, computer hardware, medications.
  • Design Patents – guard the unauthorized use of new, original, and ornamental designs for articles of manufacture. The look of an athletic shoe, a bicycle helmet, and the Star Wars characters are all protected by design patents.
  • Plant patents – protect invented or discovered plant varieties, like types of roses or corn.

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If your new product is going to be something you invented then you should talk to a patent attorney to assist you in protecting your rights.

  • Copyright Law – Authors, composers, computer programmers, and artists can protect their works throughout copyright law. It covers film, art, newspaper, music, magazine, speech, website, songs…any work of art that has been tangibly expressed. If the new product you are bringing to market falls into this category then you will want to make sure you file for a copyright to protect your work of art. Lady Gaga’s songs, Harry Potter books and movies and Obama’s speech are all protected by the copyright law.
  • Trademark Law – This law is designed to protect sounds, brand names, logos, and anything associated with a specific product and/or service. For example the name Wii is protected through trademark law. UPS has filed trademarks for the color brown (Pullman Brown) which is uses on its trucks and uniforms. It was earlier the color of Pullman rail cars of the Pullman Company, and was adopted by UPS both because brown is easy to keep clean, and due to favorable associations of luxury that Pullman brown evoked. UPS has filed two trademarks on the color brown to prevent other shipping companies (and possibly other companies in general) from using the color if it creates “market confusion.” In its advertising, UPS refers to itself as “Brown” (“What can Brown do for you?”).
  • Trade Secrets – are information that companies keep secret to give them an advantage over their competitors. This information could be a formula, practice, process, design or compilation of information which is not generally known. The formula for Coca-Cola is the most famous trade secret

If you’ve invented a new product or service and you want to protect that product or service, you should consider which type of protection it is you need. Then you should proceed with the help of your attorney to ensure you get that protection before bringing the product to market, because otherwise you risk someone else stealing your invention or idea and leaving you without any legal recourse.

The products your business sells will usually be protected under patent, trademark, or copyright law by the time they make it to your business. However, if you are the inventor of the product then it will be your responsibility to make sure it is legally protected.

Here are some resources you could check out for more information:

United States Patent and Trademark Office

Check out their page for independent inventors

Bay Area IP group – a clean snapshot of what copyrights, trademarks and patents can do for you.

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