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June 24, 2018

Start-up Guide

Patents, Trademarks & Copyrights

Protect your intellectual property with patents for new products, trademarks for names and symbols or copyrights for artistic works

Barbara Miracle | 6/1/2006

? Patents
Original machines, technical processes or methods, manufactured items and chemical compositions may be patented. "Utility patents," for new inventions or functional improvements of existing inventions, remain in effect for 20 years; "design patents" are effective for 14 years. The key elements of patent applications are "claims," which describe all essential features that distinguish the new invention.

In the U.S., once the inventor discloses the invention publicly, he has a year to file for a patent. But outside the U.S., there is no grace period. In 2005, Florida ranked ninth among states in the number of patent applications filed, with a total of 6,862 for individuals or companies. Inventors must apply to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) for a patent or a provisional patent (only available in some cases) as soon as possible. For current information on fees, check the PTO's website.

Because of the complexities in filing patent applications, the PTO recommends getting specialized legal help.

The PTO's website includes searchable databases for patents and trademarks. The site also includes listings of patent attorneys.

? Trademarks
These are words, symbols, names, internet domain names, packaging and labeling that distinguish one business's product from another's.

Although registration provides greater protection, trademarks that aren't registered still legally protect owners.

Trademarks may be registered through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office or, for more limited state protection, with the Florida Department of State, Division of Corporations (see "dba Florida," p. 59). A trademark submitted to the PTO is placed on either the Principal Register, which offers full protection indefinitely, or the Supplemental Register. For current fees, check the PTO's website.

? Copyrights
Original writing, musical works, artistic designs and other works of expression are protected under federal copyright law, which gives the author exclusive rights to use the works.

Although an author's copyright is automatic when a work is created, it's often a good idea to use a copyright notice because it informs the public that the work is protected and prevents someone from later claiming that they didn't know it was protected.

For a copyright notice, simply place the word "copyright," the year of first publication and the name of the owner of the copyright.

A copyright can be registered through the U.S. Copyright Office at the Library of Congress. An owner must have registered a copyright before filing an infringement lawsuit in court. Copyrights last 70 years after the author's death.

The most volatile sector of copyright law today involves internet material. As with any material, it's important to get permission to use photos, graphics, songs and recent articles posted on websites.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is designed to safeguard copyrights for music, software, journalism and stories on the internet.


  • U.S. Copyright Office
    (202) 707-3000
  • U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
    (800) 786-9199

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