A patent is a property right granted by the U.S. government to an inventor to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale or selling an invention throughout the U.S. or importing the invention into the U.S. for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted.
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.
Once the inventor discloses the invention publicly, he/she has a year to file for a patent with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (www.uspto.gov). You can apply for a patent online yourself; however, because of the complexities of filing patent applications, the PTO recommends getting specialized legal help. Key elements of patent applications are “claims,” which describe the essential features that distinguish the invention.
Broadly speaking, trademarks are words, symbols, names, Internet domain names, packaging and labeling that distinguish one business’s product from another’s.
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. Although registration provides greater protection, trademarks that are not registered still legally protect owners.
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. Copyright lasts 70 years after the author’s death.
Although an author’s copyright is automatic when a work is created, it’s a good idea to use a copyright notice because it informs the public and competitors that a work is protected. For a copyright notice, simply place the word “copyright” or the symbol ©, the first year of publication and the name of the owner of the copyright on the work.
Copyright registration is voluntary; however, you will have to register through the U.S. Copyright Office at the Library of Congress (www.copyright.gov) if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement.