Intellectual Property 101
Got an idea? Start the process of protecting it—now!
By Kathryn Will with Ryan Sullivan
The World Intellectual Property Organization says IP refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names, and images used in commerce.
There are different ways to protect an idea, if your business chooses to move forward with a patent. However, the process of filing for and maintaining a patent may be even more difficult than coming up with the initial idea or invention.
Patents protect inventors and their works, “but obtaining a patent and enforcing the accompanying rights is an inventor’s burden, not the government’s,” points out attorney Robert Corbett of Corbett & Kreisher, PLLC.
So, if you’ve got an idea and your strategy is to file a patent, here’s how to get started protecting it.
Who files first is what counts. Patent protection is granted to the first to file, not the first to invent, so applying for a patent should come immediately after the idea.
Start with provisional coverage. Because the process is long, inventors may want to start with filing a provisional patent to ensure their rights are protected down the road. A provisional application is a quick, inexpensive way to establish a filing date for an invention, according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
Lawyer up. An inventor’s best bet—especially if competition is looming (which it usually always is)—is to work early with an experienced IP attorney. Saving a few dollars with a DIY job on the front end could threaten earnings down the line.
You’ll need to be patient. An inventor should expect back and forth completing interim steps in the process after submitting an application to the USPTO.
It’s not enough just to own a patent. Inventors may need to defend patents multiple times. Take note that many established companies have hundreds of claims of infringement on their patents.
Here’s lingo to know.
TRADE SECRETS: Secret device or technique used by a company.
TRADEMARK: A symbol or words legally registered or established by use as representing a company or product.
PROVISIONAL: Established by an early filing date, they do not mature into issued patents unless the applicant files a regular non-provisional patent application within one year.
NON-PROVISIONAL PATENT: Governmental authority or license conferring a right or title for a set period, especially the sole right to exclude others from making, using, or selling an invention.
COPYRIGHT: Exclusive rights to print, publish, perform, film, or record material, and to authorize others to do the same
OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE: Software for which the source code is available for modification or enhancement.