Entrepreneur's Guide to IP: Trademarks, Patents, and Copyrights

As an entrepreneur and small business owner, some of your most valuable assets are non-tangible and are considered, as opposed to real or physical, intellectual property. Just as you protect your valuable tangible property with insurance, legal documents, and locks you can protect your ideas and inventions similarly.

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First, you will need to know the difference between the different types of intellectual property protection. Do you need a patent or trademark or copyright for your specific business use?


The purpose of a patent is to protect inventions. It is a right that is granted to the inventor of the federal government that permits the inventor to prevent others from selling, manufacturing or utilizing their invention for a set period. The US patent system has been designed to encourage devices that are different and support society.

There are three different kinds of patents:

  1. Utility patent – The most common type of patent for new machines, chemicals, manufacturing processes. The patent protection is for the usefulness or use of the item.
  2. Design patent – Protects the design of items manufactured either the ornamentation or overall design.
  3. Plant patents – Invention of plant varieties including hybrids.

All inventions must meet specific criteria for patent eligibility.

The invention must be both “novel and non-obvious.” This means that it must be different from other devices and cannot be publicly sold or patented by another inventor within one year of the patent application date.

Utility patents require that the inventor proves the usefulness of his creation. There must be a beneficial use, and the item must be operable.



Creators such as artist, songwriters, and authors can file for copyrights for their work. Copyrights protect physical works of art, music, recordings, written works, photographs, film, and performance art. Copyrights last for the lifetime of the author plus an additional 70 years. These rights are for both published and unpublished works.

The primary purpose of the copyright is to protect the creativity, effort and time of the artist. The US copyright act gives the owner these exclusive rights:

  1. reproduction rights for the work
  2. ability to create derivative works – new works based on the original work
  3. distribute copies of the work by sale, lease, or other transfers of ownership
  4. perform the work publicly
  5. display the work publicly



Most business owners use trademarks for names, logos, and symbols that identify their commercially available products and services. While trademarks do protect the brand name of the product, they do not protect the actual product from being a sold under a different name by an unscrupulous competitor.

An example is that Starbucks may copyright Frappucino for their iced blended drinks, it does not prevent other restaurants from serving iced blended drinks. However, those restaurants cannot call them a Frappucino.


FAQ About intellectual property

Can I trademark my logo?

Yes, the United States trademark and patent office define a trademark as “a word, phrase, symbol, or design, or combination thereof that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those from another,”i.e., your brand logo. Your Trademark rights begin when you put your logo into the commercial marketplace. This means when you advertise your product with your logo, your rights have begun in common law.

So while you are not required to register your trademark with the US patent office it is advisable to do so for these reasons:

  1. U.S. Customs and border protection will confiscate any counterfeit or trademark infringing foreign goods
  2. Protection under the federal Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, which prevents others from using web domain names that are identical or confusingly similar to your trademark
  3. Ability to an infringement lawsuit in federal court, as opposed to state court.
  4. Recognized as the owner of that trademark throughout the United States



What is the difference between a utility and design patent?

The primary difference between these two types of patents is that a utility patent protects the way the invention is used and works, while a design patent protects the way the device looks. Design patents protect the ornamental appearance of the item, including its shape and surface.


How can I get a patent pending on my product?

After you have submitted a patent application to the United States patent and trademark office your products are considered patent pending. You are allowed to describe your invention as pending until you receive final approval.

While you are not legally required to put patent pending on your product packaging most business attorneys suggest that you do. This is because you cannot initiate a lawsuit for patent pending violation unless your product informs others of your patent pending status


Do I need to copyrights my company name?

No, You need to trademark your business name. Copyrights are for the protection of works of art; trademarks are for the protection of commercially used brand and product names.


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