Copyrights, trademarks and patents: What are the basics?
You’re pretty creative – and there are times that the ideas just flow forward. You know that some of your ideas or inventions are absolutely going to make money once you find the right methods of production and the right marketing.
In the meantime, you naturally want to preserve your rights and protect against intellectual property theft. If you’re fairly new to this game, that means understanding the difference between copyrights, trademarks and patents.
What’s a copyright?
You technically have a copyright over any original thing that you author, whether that’s a poem, a book, web copy, art or music – but registering your original pieces with the U.S. Copyright Office can protect your work a lot more easily if you have to prove ownership someday.
A lot of folks try to use what’s known as a “poor man’s copyright,” which involves mailing themselves the work they want to protect in a sealed envelope. The idea is that the date stamp can always serve to show their authorship and protect their rights if the envelope is unsealed in court. Don’t fall for this idea: It doesn’t actually work that way.
What’s a trademark?
A trademark protects anything associated with your brand, so it applies to things like logos, slogans and even some colors (think “Tiffany Blue”) and musical notes (like the sound that goes along with “Intel Inside”).
Trademarks don’t just prohibit outright copying; they also prohibit another party from using marks and slogans that are likely to create confusion among consumers and diminish the trademarked brand. For example, a burger place called “MacDonald’s” that uses a single golden arch would probably get into trouble for trying to bank off consumer familiarity with the well-known “McDonald’s” brand.
What’s a patent?
Patents protect new inventions and scientific creations (or improvements on those that already exist), ornamental designs and even new plant varieties. If, for example, you built a better mousetrap than what’s already available, you want a patent to protect your financial interests in your design.
Protecting your intellectual property is a serious business, and it can take sound legal guidance to help you understand the nuances involved. Make sure that you take appropriate steps today to safeguard what you’ve created.