Safeguarding Your Intellectual Property
Patents are granted by the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). There are three classifications of patents: utility, design, and plant patents. A patent gives the inventor or assignee the right “to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States.” In exchange for this protection, the inventor must publicly disclose the invention. Most patents provide protection for a term of 20 years. Other patent protection may be available to an inventor to provide certain international protections.
A trademark is a “word, phrase, symbol or design, or combination thereof, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of the seller. A trademark is noted by the TM symbol. A service mark is similar excepting that it is used to distinguish the source of a service rather than that of goods. A service mark is noted by the SM symbol. Both the TM and SM symbols may be used without any registration with USPTO.
Registering a mark with USPTO gives the holder certain benefits including listing in the USPTO online database and allowing the holder to display the ® symbol with the mark. More information and a searchable database of registered marks can be found at uspto.gov.
Copyrights provide protection to authors of “original works of authorship.” This can include literary works, musical works, dramatic woks, choreographic works, pictorial and sculptural works, motion pictures, sound recordings, and certain other intellectual works. A copyright gives the holder certain rights related to distribution, reproduction, derivation, performance, and displays. Although not required, many who produce these works register the copyright to obtain additional protections. Copyright registration is obtained from the U. S. Library of Congress.
While not required for works published since 1989, copyright holders may find it useful to display the © symbol and provide other notice of copyright.