The patent process
A patent is the most expensive and complex type of IP (intellectual property) right. Decide whether you can protect your IP with a copyright, trademark, or service mark, or by keeping it under wraps as a trade secret before you go through the patent process.
If you and your IP professional decide that a patent is the way to go, and you have the time and money to see the process through to the conclusion, here’s the patent process in a nutshell:
Make sure the invention is really yours and doesn’t belong to your boss, your spouse, or your business partner.
Do a patent search to make sure that no one else has already come up with your formula, process, or invention.
Check that your invention passes the three-part test: It’s new, useful, and wouldn’t be obvious to someone knowledgeable in the field.
Prepare a patent application, including:
A short abstract of the invention
References to any prior applications
A brief discussion of the general field, background, and circumstances of the invention
A summary of the invention
A description of the best implementation of the invention, including a drawing, if applicable
The claims (the legal metes and bounds — dimensions and limits — of the invention)
File your patent application, paying special attention to filing deadlines.
Pursue and prosecute your application through the Patent Office.
Appeal adverse decisions.
Get the patent (if you still want it).
The basics of copyrights
A copyright protects an original work of authorship (OWA) — think short story, computer program, or song lyrics, for example — which must have tangible form, be a result of significant mental activity, have no inherent technical function, and be the author’s original creation. Here’s the skinny on copyrights:
As soon as you create an OWA, you automatically have a copyright, which prevents others from copying, publishing, or performing your work.
Make sure that you own the OWA. In other words, you didn’t produce it as an employee, or as a work made for hire.
You can register your copyright, which makes prosecuting copycats easier.
When you register your copyright, mark your work as a copyrighted work to discourage infringers and give yourself legal advantages.
How to identify your commercial identifiers
If you’re developing work or a product that you want to get a patent on, register as the copyright holder of, or trademark, you need to be able to distinguish the fruit of your labors from the work of other people. The three types of commercial identifiers that distinguish your product, service, or company from others are:
Product identifiers, commonly known as brands, or trademarks, which distinguish your product from others
Service identifiers, comprised of service marks, certification marks, and membership or association marks
Company identifiers, called trade names, which are typically business names and logos
A good commercial identifier has the following characteristics:
Unique (do a search first)
Distinctive rather than generic
How to keep trade secrets
The world of patents, copyrights, and trademarks includes trade secrets. Trade secrets can take many forms, such as your customer and supplier list, your next marketing campaign, a particular process or formula, or your finances. How can you protect them? By using the tips in the following list:
Have all employees, contractors, consultants, advisors, and suppliers sign a confidentiality agreement.
Restrict access to areas of your office or plant.
Mark documents with a confidential legend.
Limit circulation of confidential documents.
Lock away sensitive material.
Include warnings and directives in your employee manual.
Useful acronyms for patents, copyrights, and trademarks
The world of patents, copyrights, and trademarks has its share of acronyms, just like any other field. Although when you see IP, you may think “internet protocol,” in the intellectual property realm, IP stands for, well, intellectual property. The following table lists some of the more commonly used acronyms in the IP world:
|Western Africa Patent Office
|Eurasian Patent Office
|Electronic Patent Filing System
|European Patent Office
|Manual of Patent Examining Procedure
|Office action (by a patent or trademark examiner)
|Southeastern African Patent Office
|Office for Harmonization in the International Market (European
|Original work of authorship (protected by copyright)
|Patent Cooperation Treaty
|Plant Variety Protection Act
|Plant Variety Protection Office
|Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure
|Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants
|United States Codes
|United States Patent and Trademark Office
|Trademark Electronic Application System
|World Industrial Property Organization
|Work made for hire