September 20, 2014

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.

| 6/1/2007
»Patents
Resources

U.S. Copyright Office
copyright.gov
(202) 707-3000

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
uspto.gov
(800) 786-9199

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. In 2006, Florida ranked eleventh among states in the number of patents granted, with a total of 3,263 for individuals or companies. Inventors should 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, although you can apply online.

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

» 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 and competitors that the work is protected.

For a copyright notice, place the word "copyright" or the symbol ©," 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 of U.S. works 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.

» 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. In both cases, declarations must be filed at the end of the sixth year after the date of registration and at the end of each successive 10-year period. For current fees, check the PTO's website.

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