Adapted from the upcoming book THE WALL STREET JOURNAL COMPLETE SMALL BUSINESS GUIDEBOOK (Three Rivers Press, Dec. 29, 2009).
You want to spread the word about your business. But you also want to keep your innovative product or clever brand name safe from rivals, counterfeiters or rip-off artists.
What to do? Safeguarding your company’s intellectual property through patents, trademarks or copyrights will allow you to seek damages, a big deterrent to imitators. Here’s a brief overview of all three types of protection.
Patents. Issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), a patent is easily the most expensive— and most valuable— protection for an entrepreneur with a innovative product or business method. A patent essentially gives you a mini-monopoly for twenty years. The application process can be a bit complicated, so it’s wise to use the services of a patent attorney. Costs generally range from $2,000 to $10,000, depending on complexity.
Trademarks. A word, symbol, logo or image that identifies a product or service can be trademarked, as can a scent, sound or color (such as Tiffany Blue). There are more than forty classes of goods and services, and you can register a trademark (for a fee) in more than one category. A pastry shop ower, for instance, could register a trademark in both the food class (in the goods category) and the restaurant class (in the services category). You can conduct a free search to see if a mark is already registered on the USPTO’s Web site using the Trademark Electronic Search System. The filing fee is $375 if done by paper and $275 to $325 if done electronically.
Copyright. A copyright protects original works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software and architectural designs. A business, for instance, might want a copyright to protect its training manual. Original works on a website (such as writings, artwork or photos) may be copyrighted. Copyright law does not protect domain names; instead, the nonprofit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbershandles domain name system management. The fee for a basic copyright registration is $45 when you submit a paper application, or you can lower that fee by filing through the U.S. Copyright Office’s online system for $35.
Keep in mind that if you plan on selling or distributing your products abroad, you should consider filing with those countries’ intellectual property protection authorities in addition to those in the United States.
Write to Colleen DeBaise at firstname.lastname@example.org