Life itself is only a vision – a dream…RSS
How much money is a good idea worth? A good idea could be worthless, or it could be priceless. It depends on what you do with it. I can tell you this, though. It isn’t worth anything if someone decides to steal it from you.
Anyone who has seen “The Social Network” knows exactly what I am talking about. In the movie (and in real life) Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss brought a lawsuit against Mark Zuckerberg claiming that he stole the idea for Facebook. I won’t claim who was right or wrong in this case, but it serves my purpose of showing how much intellectual property theft could end up costing you.
Luckily, the federal government has in place laws to protect intangible things like ideas. These protections come in the form of patents, trademarks, and copyrights.
Patents are issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and give the inventor(s) the right to be the only person(s) to make or sell the item in the United States. An invention or process has to meet certain standards to be eligible to patent. It has to be reproducible, distinct from existing products or processes, useful, and submitted for patent within a year. Although patents are most often given for machines, an inventor can also patent more unusual things, like a type of chemical compound or a non-naturally occurring species of plant.
Patents are the most secure of the three types of intellectual property protections, but they are also the most difficult to get. It takes time and money for a patent to go through. It costs about five thousand dollars to apply for and maintain a patent. Utility and plant patents last for twenty years from the date of application, and design patents are valid for fourteen years. Remember to apply for the patent within one year of its design. Failing to do so means you forfeit the right to patent, and thus lose the right to exclusivity.
Applying for a patent is a long and difficult process, so it would serve you to recruit some help to guide you through the process. Patent attorneys undergo certification and give you a better chance to get your idea patented. It may end up costing you more, but not as much as losing out on the protections offered by a patent. Even if the patent doesn’t work out, it is a calculated risk when compared to the possible dollar amount of a patented idea.
Trademarks are handled by the Trademark Office of the USPTO. A trademark is much less distinctive than a patent or a copyright. Usually a trademark is a business name or an emblem, but they can be almost anything that the company uses to make themselves unique to their customers. These include slogans or jingles.
When selecting a name or a slogan, the USPTO recommends searching their TESS (Trademark Electronic Search System) database to figure out if your business name or logo is already trademarked. The next best way to choose is search Google to see if anything else comes up. By doing so, you can check if there are other companies with the same or similar names. The goal of a trademark is to make your company unique, so similar company names make your company less distinctive in the eyes of consumers. This is especially important if yours is an online business, or you plan to take your company national. It is also good just because it protects you from accidentally infringing on someone else’s intellectual property.
A copyright is given for “original works of authorship”, which include things like books, music, computer programs, etc. You don’t have to formally apply for a copyright (since it considered “given” at the time of conception), but it is recommended since it grants you more legal rights. A copyright gives you the right to reproduce and distribute said work of authorship. Copyrights extend seventy years past the death of the composer, and then they enter into the “public domain”.
For a formal copyright, you just have to send in the application to the U.S. Copyright Office with the application fee. The process is relatively easy, mainly when it comes to a patent. To give you the full rights of a copyright, it is recommended that the request be submitted with three months of initial conception. The recommendation for formal copyright status stems from the fact that there are a lot of people out there who could have come up with a similar idea.