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Protecting Your Ideas

Do you have an invention, a writing, a design or artwork, new music, or a cool name for a product or service? State and national governments offer various ways of protecting intellectual property, depending on the type of work. Timing is important for many of these ways of protection as well as actions taken by the inventor-creator.

Generally, PATENTS are for inventions. Roughly speaking, inventions are new and useful compositons, devices, or processes. Design patent protection is also offered for new designs of useful objects. An example would be a new style for silverware or reading glasses. Plant patent protection is also offered for new plants. The United States offers the ability to file a provisional application as well as a non-provisional application. Certain countries are members of the Patent Cooperation Treaty, which allows a single application to secure a filing date prior to filing patent applications in individual countries. This may be useful for those contemplating filing for patent protection in other countries, such as Canada and Mexico.

Generally, COPYRIGHTS are for works of art. This includes books, music, jewelry, artwork, textiles, and other creative works. Software can also be copyrighted, providing limited protection of the specific computer code. Formal copyright registration in the United States increases the remedies available against an infringer.

Generally, TRADEMARKS are for naming products or services. A trademark is used to identify the source of a good or service. The United States also recognizes certification marks and collective marks ("collective" meaning a group or organization). Trademarks may be made up of words or may be a graphical logo. Colors, jingles, smells, etc. may also qualify as trademarks. An application may also be made if you intend to use a mark. Trademarks are also useful in protecting domain names. Texas also offers state trademark registrations. Typically, trademark registration is used to protect an investment in signage, printing, product labelling, marketing materials, domain name, etc. Trademark registration also makes it difficult for a competitor or importer to copy the product using the trademarked name. Under the Madrid Protocol, application for protection may be extended to other countries who are members of the Madrid Protocol.

A common mistake is failing to secure intellectual property protection prior to discovering an infringer or being accused of infringing. The costs of asserting or defending an infringement are significant. By then, the ability to secure intellectual property protection may be gone or greatly reduced, depending on the circumstances. Most often, securing intellectual property rights early is relatively lower in cost and typically creates an environment favorable for preventing expensive infringement situations.