So you’ve got a great product or business idea … how do you protect it?
In general, there are four ways to protect your “intellectual property”:
- Patents protect new processes, devices, compositions of matter, designs for articles of manufacture, and plant varieties. Patents require the inventor to provide a detailed and enabling disclosure about the invention in exchange for the right to exclude others from practicing the invention for a limited period of time. Patents expire, and when that happens, the information contained within is no longer protected. However, unlike trade secrets, patents protect against independent discovery.
- Trademarks protect words, phrases, symbols, or a design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.
- Copyrights protect works of authorship, such as writings, music, and software code. Copyright is secured automatically when the work is created, and a work is “created” when it is fixed in a copy or phonorecord for the first time. You can register a copyright for additional protection.
- Trade Secrets consist of information such as a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique, or process that is kept secret by the inventor. If a trade secret holder fails to maintain secrecy or if the information is independently discovered, is released, or otherwise becomes generally known, protection is lost.
Patents, trademarks and copyrights can be obtained through the US Patent and Trademark Office. They have a very informative website that explains the differences and how to go through the processes. Google Patents also is a great database for searching patents.