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A Beginner’s Guide to Product Patenting

Intellectual property is everywhere. It’s in our nature to create things, and intellectual property, or IP, is the legal way you can protect them. This protection has encouraged innovation in all walks of life. But whether these creations come from a multi-million-dollar corporation or just one person, IP protections affect all of us. If you have an idea or create pretty much anything, you may want to protect it. But rather than there being one simple law to call upon, IP protection comes in three forms. These are trademarks, copyrights, and patents.

Trademarks

Trademarks are used to identify a product or company, and they are everywhere. Google, Nike, and Apple have instantly recognizable trademarks. Perhaps less well known, though, are trademark colors. For instance, Heinz actually has trademark protection on the blue color of their cans of baked beans. It’s even possible to trademark a sound.

Trademarks must be able to be represented graphically, they must be distinctive, and they must not be merely descriptive. For instance, you wouldn’t be able to get a trademark for a company selling apples called Apple, but it’s OK for computers or records. Anyone can use the TM symbol without registering, but formal registration must be completed to use the ® sign. Registration can be done quickly and cheaply through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and doing so prevents others from copying your brand identity.

You can register your trademark in an ITU trademark application before you have any sales. Many times, people register their trademarks before their product is fully developed or before they’re ready to make sales. The best trademarks that you can create or file for are arbitrary and don’t have anything to do with the product itself. For example, Apple is associated with computers now, but an apple itself has nothing to do with computers. Kodak is associated with film very strongly, but Kodak was a made-up word that the creator of the trademark felt had a strong sound.

Copyright

In today’s digital world, it’s easier than ever to copy, paste, remix, download, and publish content. People’s writing, artwork, videos, and images can be inspiring, but these works are also easy to take without thinking twice. When people treat the Internet like a free-for-all, legal and ethical situations can arise. That’s why it’s important to know about copyright protections and fair use and understand how and when to give credit to creators.

Copyright is an automatic right that does not need to be registered. It exists whenever anybody creates an original work, providing that there’s been some skill or judgment involved. Examples are books, pictures, music, and films. Plagiarism is one form of copyright infringement. Copyright also covers computer programs and databases, but there’s a slight catch: Copyright protects the expression of an idea, but it doesn’t protect the idea being expressed, meaning that if you write a brilliant piece of software, the code you’ve written is safeguarded but not what the software does.

Copyrighted works are protected for up to 70 years after the death of the person who created them. In that time, they can’t be reproduced, performed, or shown without permission. The copyright owner can recover damages from anybody who infringes that. Permission to copy work can be granted, usually in return for payment of a license fee or royalty.

Patents

A patent is a legal certificate that protects a person’s right to an invention for up to 20 years. In specific territories, patents can be granted for products, devices, systems, compositions, processes, methods, and uses. Patents cannot be issued for mere ideas, like the concept of a time machine. Patents are the big guns of the IP world because they’re powerful, precious, and often complex.

Patents protect inventions providing that they are new, involve an inventive step, and have industrial applications. For instance, Tetra Pak has used patents for package designs and the machines that make its cartons to become a billion-dollar company. Without patents, drug companies wouldn’t invest the enormous sums needed to develop new drugs. However, patent protection only lasts for 20 years, and it can take more than ten years to bring a drug to the market. That is why new drugs are very expensive.