A company’s decision to pursue a patent, trademark or copyright depends on the type of intellectual property (IP) you’re trying to protect. I’ll mention some specific, important features for these forms of IP, but on the most basic level:
- think copyrights for protecting content surrounding your products articles, books, podcasts, songs, movies, guides etc…
- think trademarks for protecting the name of your app / website, logos, and one-liners etc.. and
- think patents for protecting processes and methods, which includes software, machines, manufactured items, compositions, and designs.
For startups, common examples of copyrightable materials include designs, content and software. Here’s some points you should know about copyrights:
- Registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim (you need to do this to even bring a suit in the first place).
- If a registration is made before or within five years of publication, it will be presumed in court that registration establishes the validity of the copyright and the facts stated in the certificate.
- If registration is made within three months after publication of the work or prior to an infringement of an unpublished work, statutory damages and attorney’s fees will be available to the copyright owner in a copyright infringement lawsuit.
So there’s a good amount of advantages if your product is content heavy and the good part is it’s pretty cheap to secure a copyright so it might be worth pursuing.
A trademark can be virtually any work, name, symbol or device used to distinguish the goods or services of one individual or company from the goods or services of another. If you’re interested in protecting a title, slogan, or other short word phrase (i.e., WeWork recently trademarked the phrase “physical social network”), you likely need a trademark. See more:
Also, to acquire trademark rights, the trademark must have been chosen and adopted in good faith, which means the user of the trademark must believe the mark doesn’t conflict with other marks currently used in the marketplace.
One thing that comes up a lot is what’s the difference between the symbols ® and ™. A company can use the R symbol after registering with the USPTO. Like a copyright, registering for a trademark has advantages. A registered trademark is protected across the country, unlike an unregistered trademark, which is only protected in its geographic location. Also, a registered trademark may be entitled to a greater award of damages, effectively deter others, and provide better evidence in an infringement case.
Patents are exclusive rights to make, use and sell inventions. To be protectable by patent, inventions must relate to eligible subject matter, be novel, useful, and non-obvious. Also, in order to be patentable, an invention must be new and non-obvious to someone of an average level or skill and ability in that field.
To maximize your potential patent rights, you should generally apply before going to market or showing the technology to potential investors. Filing a provisional patent application, which is less expensive than a formal patent application, gives you a year to decide whether to proceed with the full application. It’s important to put in serious time and effort to your provisional patent, as that will serve as the foundation for your non-provisional patent.
For business owners, the most common form of patent is a utility patent. Utility patents are usually granted to these types of inventions:
- A process or method, such as computer software
- A machine, such as a camera
- An article of manufacture, like a light bulb
- A composition of matter, such as a drug formula
More about patents:
Bottom line: if you have the resources, get the IP protection. But if you’re still in the idea stage / underfunded, it might be wiser to wait until you get some market validation first. To speak with an IP attorney about your options feel free to check outfor a free consultation!