We’ve all heard the horror stories about small-business owners who don’t secure their intellectual property and end up losing their companies. So here’s a brief primer, starting with terminology:
➽ Patents protect inventions.
➽ Trademarks protect a phrase, design or symbol.
➽ Copyrights protect “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and other intellectual works. A copyright applies to published and unpublished works.
➽ If you created software, an app or original artwork for your logo, a copyright applies. If your business’s product requires a DVD explaining how to use that product, you need a copyright for the DVD and a patent for the product.
A copyright is considered active as soon as you can prove it’s being used in the business world. To protect your copyright from infringement, register it with the U.S. Copyright Office (Copyright.gov). That office’s Circular 38 (Copyright.gov/circs/circ38a.pdf) lists the countries that will respect your copyright. Copyrights created on or after Jan. 1, 1978, last for the life of the property’s creator plus 70 years.
For more information, contact the U.S. Copyright Office or an online service such as LegalZoom.com, or you can consult a copyright lawyer. Also make sure to read about our 2013 Start Small Win Big winner, TrakLight, a “TurboTax for intellectual property.”