Patents, Copyrights, and Trademarks… Oh My!

You’ve worked hard to develop an innovative idea. The last thing you want is for someone else to steal your intellectual property or take credit for it themselves, whether it is your brand, an invention, a design, or any other creation.

When expanding your European business into North America, there are a number of options for protecting your intellectual property in the United States.

Patents

Patents protect inventions, including methods and apparatus implementing such methods.

Patented inventions must be novel, useful, and non-obvious, and the process of obtaining a patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is costly and time-consuming. Once approved, patents remain valid for 14 or 20 years, depending on the specific type of patent. Due to the necessity for uniqueness, it is important not to publicly disclose ideas that you intend to patent. If another inventor (individual or legal entity) applies for the patent before you do, you may lose your rights to the intellectual property.

Copyrights

Copyrights protect written or published works, such as books, songs, films, online content, and artistic works.

The good news is that such works are automatically protected by copyright, provided that they are original (no copies please!) and fixed over time. Copyrights do not need to be registered, but it may be a good idea to register yours anyway, depending on what your works entail. Registering a copyright establishes a public record of ownership and helps protect your rights in court.

If the owner is an individual, a copyright is valid for the life of the author plus 70 years. If the owner is a business or legal entity, a copyright is valid for 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation.

Trademarks

Trademarks protect signs, symbols, logos, words, or sounds that uniquely distinguish your products and services.

Trademarks must be registered in order to be protected, but that’s not enough. You must also actually use the trademark as intended in order to protect your ownership of it. Unlike patents and copyrights, there is no time limitation on trademarks. As long as you continue to use your registered trademark, it will remain yours.

Lawyers…. Who Needs ‘Em!

You do.

Sure, I can translate your patent from French or Spanish into US English, no problem. But when it comes to legal advice, you’d better hire an attorney in the United States who specializes in intellectual property.

An IP attorney can explain the details of the law, help prepare your patent application, help you register your copyright or trademark, and represent you in any disputes involving intellectual property protection or infringement.

Innovative markets move quickly. You need to keep up, while also maintaining a firm grip on protecting your intellectual property.