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Intellectual Property Protection in the US: Frequently Asked Questions

Intellectual property (IP) is a term used for business or personal property in the form of a brand name, design, invention or other creations. Every business owns some type of intellectual property, which is a business asset and should be protected from unlawful use by third parties.

Here are nine key questions and answers that provide basic knowledge of what constitutes intellectual property and how it can be protected.

What is the difference between copyright, trademark and patent?

All three are different types of intellectual property.

A trademark is a word, phrase, logo or symbol used to differentiate a product or service from others in the market. A trademark or service mark can be registered by filing an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). While registration is not mandatory, it brings several advantages to the business, including the ease of litigation in case of trademark infringement.

A copyright is a protection granted to authors (creators) of original intellectual works such as books, poetry, sculptures, motion picture, songs and music, as well as to authors of computer software, clothing, jewellery design, architectural design and so forth. Copyright protection is issued by the U.S. Copyright Office.

A patent is a property right issued to a person or entity that has invented or discovered something new and useful. It is granted by the USPTO. A patent gives the inventor the exclusive right to manufacture, make, use and sell their invention. Patent protection can be sought for a useful technical or industrial innovation or invention, for new designs, and for inventing or discovering a new plant variety.

Which type of IP protection is easiest to get?

In terms of the entire process of application, review and the ultimate issuance of protection, it is easiest to obtain a copyright, which takes between nine months and one year. Trademarks come second in this order, and registration generally comes through in a year or so.  Patents are generally the hardest to obtain—it can take up to four years to patent an invention.

How long does a copyright last?

A copyright generally lasts for the lifetime of the creator (author) plus seventy years. If an original work is hired by an entity other than the author and the hirer is considered the author of the work, it is protected under copyright law for a period of ninety-five years from its publish date or 120 years from its creation date, whichever ends first.

How long does a trademark protection last?

Trademark registrations are valid for six years, after which they must be renewed by the user. You can continue to renew your trademark protection for as long as you’re using the mark.

What is the validity period of a patent protection?

Patent protection is generally granted for twenty years from the date on which the application was first filed. Design patents filed after May 13, 2015, last for fifteen years from the date on which the patent was granted.

Is a trademark different from a corporate name?

Yes. Your business or company’s official name is its corporate name. If your business is incorporated, this is the legal name registered with the office of the Secretary of State.

On the other hand, a trademark is a visual identifier that differentiates your product or service from similar other offerings on the market. A trademark need not always be a word or set of words; it can be a logo or a symbol as well.

If you’re considering applying for trademark registration, having access to experienced gdpr and internet lawyers can help safeguard your interests and protect your intellectual property from unlawful use.

Can I use the ® symbol with my trademark if I have filed for trademark registration?

No. You may only use the ® symbol next to your mark if you have been granted trademark registration by the USPTO. However, you may freely use ™ or ℠ symbol next to your unregistered trademark or service mark.

Which US courts hear IP claims?

There are no special dedicated courts for intellectual property disputes, and they are generally heard in US federal courts.

Hiring a seasoned intellectual property attorney or law firm to represent your claim dramatically increases your chances of success in such matters. An attorney with expertise and experience in representing and defending IP infringement claims can counsel you on the best way forward, protect your rights and minimize damage to your business. Remember that access to sound legal counsel is crucial in IP matters.


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