Understand the Basics of Intellectual Property

A small-business owner faces many unavoidable startup challenges. Keeping your intellectual property—product ideas, brand logo and business name, for example—from being stolen is among the avoidable ones.

The process of patenting or trademarking your ideas used to be overwhelming, but today the government has cut down on red tape in order to foster innovation. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO.gov) has tons of online tools to help you do a patent or trademark search and apply for patents, trademarks and copyrights. However, some entrepreneurs prefer to hire a trademark attorney or sign up with an online service like Rocket Lawyer, LegalZoom or Traklight to do the legwork for them.

Here are the basics you should know:

• A trademark protects your brand name, logo and slogan. If you’ve already created a brand, you’ll need to provide examples of where and how you are using the name, such as on your company letterhead, business cards or website.

• A patent protects an invention. There are three types of patents: Utility patents are inventions or discoveries of any new and useful process, machine or article of manufacture; design patents are new, original and ornamental designs for an article of manufacture; and for you botanists out there, plant patents are new varieties of flora.

• A copyright, which protects works of authorship, is granted by the U.S. Copyright Office. Copyrights apply to written and visual works and sound recordings.

Protecting your IP is just one business challenge. Make sure you know—and avoid—the 7 deadly sins for a startup.


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