Patents and trademarks are critical to the process of defending intellectual property in the United States and virtually every developed country on the planet. There's a lot riding on the work you've put into establishing your business and the products and services it provides. Here's what you need to know about securing the patents and trademarks that'll protect your business interests.
What is a Patent?
A patent is a document that explicitly explains how an invention works. While we typically think of inventions as being specific products, they also can be descriptions of processes, chemicals and even compositions of materials. The defining features of a patented item are that it must be novel and useful. If you're not 100% sure whether something you've invented can be patented, you should sit down with a patent attorney and discuss your invention.
What is a Trademark?
Trademarks are defining features of the brands that companies build. When you think of a definitive trademark, it's worth picturing something iconic, such as the Nike Swoosh. The combination of words, phrases, and symbols that exemplify a brand are generally can be trademarked.
Notably, trademarks tend to isolated to the industry of the companies that file the trademarks. For example, Apple Computer and Apple Corps, the company that held the rights to the music of the rock band The Beatles, were not in conflict with one another until Apple Computer got into the music business. With the arrival of iTunes and the iPod, Apple Computer became a competitor and had to enter into an agreement with Apple Corps to avoid any conflicts.
Protecting Intellectual Property
The initial filing of documents by a patent or trademark attorney is one of the biggest steps you'll need to take. Everything that follows, such as sending cease-and-desist letters and pursuing litigation against other parties, arises from the government's acceptance of those documents. Defending yourself against outside claims also starts with the documents you've submitted.
Prior to filing, your lawyer will also conduct a search to verify that there aren't any existing patents or trademarks in your industry. They'll likely take an overly broad view of what counts as your industry to ensure you don't get blindsided by someone in a sector that a judge might see as adjacent to yours. If all goes well, the USPTO will try to deliver a final judgment on your application within 12 months of the initial filing.