Protection is a big word for entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs want to protect their personal assets, they want to protect their employees, and they want to protect their intellectual property. But intellectual property, unlike personal assets and employees, isn’t really a tangible thing. So how do you protect an idea, concept or the overall representation of your business?
Here are three good ways to do just that:
Trademarks are used to protect your business’s logo, designs, symbols, phrases, or name so that competitors can’t use the same or extremely similar marks or name that you do, confusing the two businesses. A trademark is your property. By registering a trademark, you have exclusive rights to use it, and no one else can infringe upon that right. With proper use and enforcement, trademarks will enforce the individuality of your business for an unlimited amount of time. However, keep in mind that it depends on the mark’s inherent strength when it needs to be determined whether or not a competitor will be able to produce a mark or logo similar to yours. So Amy’s Bakery in California and Amy’s Bakery in Idaho can both be registered as “Amy’s Bakery” as long as the two have different font, color, or use a different image. Additionally, one mark cannot tarnish another or bring about any sort of confusion.
Trademarks can also be a little extensive to register. You have to apply to the USPTO (the United States Patent and Trademark Office) and wait a month for the office to examine your mark and identify any problems. After the initial month and examination, what you’ve submit enters a 30 day waiting period where upon other people are allowed to challenge your right to register. Only after all of that is the trademark yours.
Copyrights protect the rights creators have to their work, protecting things like literature, music, drama, choreography, art, motion pictures, sound recordings, and architecture. Copyrights essentially give people the right to carry out certain operations on specific materials or products. They’re similar to trademarks because they offer long-term protection. These terms also begin right away, and last the whole life of the author plus an additional 70 years after his/her death.
To register a copyright you have to register with the U.S. Copyright Office. Registration isn’t too complicated, but like a trademark, can be extensive. The first thing you should do when thinking about filing a copyright is check the copyright database to see if what you want to register is infringing on something already registered. As you can imagine, this can take a great deal of time, but it’s worth the effort if you can save some money by not sending in something that’s already been registered. After you’ve done your research, simply fill out the form, pay a small fee, and send a copy of the work to register.
Patents work to protect the underlying ideas of the entrepreneur. Where a copyright protects the ways ideas are expressed, patent claims focus on the mechanisms, principles and components surrounding those ideas. Patents are the strongest of the laws protecting intellectual property. Patent law is based on a very strict liability standard, making it a business owner’s strongest option for intellectual property protection. Patents often make use of reverse engineering. Through reverse engineering, they see if the patented invention is in use by another company. Just remember that patents have an expiration date. Design patents protect design, shape, configuration and appearance of any invention for 14 years, and utility patents that protect functional makeover and new inventions last about 20 years.
To file a patent, keep a careful record of the details of your invention (the process as well as the finished result), make sure you qualify for protection (check to see if your invention is truly an original idea), assess the commercial potential (make sure you aren’t losing money), and, finally, file your application with the USPTO!
No matter how you choose to protect your business, seeking the right form of protection is a big part of upholding a brand. Just think how different the world of business would be if another business had the right to use your logo, your name, or your invention. Not only would there be utter confusion for your customers, but your brand could be accidentally associated with a less-reputable brand thanks to a similar logo or name, giving you a reputation you didn’t earn. Now that you know your brand needs protecting, and you’ve seen the different forms of protection, decide what’s best for you and your business.