So you’ve survived the infancy stage of business and you are now poised to grow. Congratulations! You’ve made it further than most. But are you ready for your first growth spurt? Have you laid the necessary foundation for protecting your business and ensuring continued success?
One often overlooked area by business owners is protecting their intellectual property, especially when growth involves expanding into new geographical areas. Many think that obtaining patent, trademark, or copyright protection is unnecessary or too expensive and they forgo the proper filings.
When it comes to protecting your business’ brand, goods and services from unscrupulous competition, an ounce of prevention is worth well over a ton of cure. Without protection, your recourse against intellectual property theft is at best weakened and at worst none.
Patent vs. Trademark vs. Copyright
What’s the difference between the three? They serve different purposes and protect different things.
A patent protects an invention or product. Patents grant a property right to the inventor that will prevent anyone else from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention in the United States.
A trademark is a word, name or symbol used in commerce to indicate from whom the goods came and to distinguish them from the goods of others. A servicemark is the same as a trademark, but used for services instead of goods.
While a trademark can be used to prevent others from using a mark that is confusingly similar, it doesn’t prohibit others from providing the same goods under a different mark. A copyright protects an original work such as a book, picture, song, video, play or painting, whether published or unpublished.
An example can help illustrate the differences between patents, trademarks, and copyrights.
Let’s say you invented a new lawn treatment that is the most effective product on the market for increasing the root density of lawn grass.
The treatment has been a great success at your local hardware stores and now you are receiving inquiries every day from retailers across Georgia and neighboring states who want to carry it in their stores. In your development of the treatment, you discovered a number of techniques and procedures for promoting a healthy lawn and you wrote a 200-page book describing them in detail.
In this example, you protect the invention by obtaining a patent, the product name by registering it as a federal trademark, and the book by registering a copyright.
Which one is right for me?
Trademarks are the most commonly needed form of intellectual property protection for many traditional businesses. A business owner can file for state trademark protection or federal trademark protection. State protection only protects the owner’s mark within the State of Georgia, while federal affords protection all over the United States.
Many owners of traditional businesses won’t need copyrights or patents. However, if you have designed an innovative new invention, product or process, you should investigate whether it qualifies for patent protection.
In addition, if your business involves making works in the creative arts, you will want copyright protection for your hard work. Before making any final decisions on which kind of protection to pursue, you should speak to a licensed attorney experienced in intellectual property law.
Patents and federal trademarks are obtained from the Patent and Trademark Office (www.uspto.gov). Copyrights are obtained from the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress (www.copyright.gov). State of Georgia trademarks are obtained through the Secretary of State (sos.georgia.gov/corporations/trademarks.htm).
Jason Anderson is Area Director of the Georgia Southern University Small Business Development Center, and he may be contacted at (912) 478-7232.
Anderson, Jason (2012, August 8). Ready to grow? Protect your intellectual property first. Business in Savannah.