You’ve created an amazing, one-of-a-kind food or beauty product, and you want to make sure that no one else can take your ideas to profit from them or compete with you. You know there are a variety of ways to protect yourself, but you’re not sure which you need. Maybe a copyright or a trademark? Possibly a patent? Which do you need and how do you go about getting them? I’ll give you the full rundown below so you can be completely protected under U.S. law.
Three ways to protect your product and business
There are three main ways to protect your product and your business:
Each of these is used to protect different assets, and they each have different qualifications and processes for approval. You most likely need at least two and possibly all three of them to fully protect yourself.
What is a trademark?
A trademark protects business assets, such as your business name or logo, from being used by other businesses in your state or federally. You can trademark anything that contributes to your brand identity in order to prevent other business brands from looking too much like yours.
It’s important to note, however, that a trademark won’t protect the color and design of your logo — only the similarities between your logo and others that look like it.
Technically, you win a trademark as soon as you use your name and logo for marketing your business. However, when you go through the trademark registration process, you tell others that your company’s products, logo, and name are your property and can only be used by you. If there is a lawsuit, you will have legal documentation that you own your business assets and that the other business owner is guilty of trademark infringement if their name or design is very similar to yours.
How do you get a trademark?
You can get a state or federal trademark for your brand assets.
If your trademark is only used within your state, you only need a state trademark. However, if you want your trademark to be used nationwide, you need to register it nationally.
Before you apply for a trademark, you need to do a trademark search to make sure another business doesn’t already have a trademark for your name or logo, or one that’s similar to the asset you want to protect. You can search for free using the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS). You also may want to hire an attorney to make sure that your search is thorough and that you look for the right things. If you search incorrectly, and your trademark isn’t approved, you will not get a refund from the Trademark and Patent Office, so it’s crucial that you get this step right.
Once you’ve determined that no one else has a similar trademark, you will file a trademark application through the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS). You will then get a confirmation email.
After about three months, you will be notified ift your trademark was approved, based on whether the examining attorney finds that your trademark is too similar to existing trademarks or not. If the attorney finds a name or logo that’s similar to yours, you will not be able to register it. If, however, they decide that your application does meet the requirements for approval, it will be published in the Trademark Office’s weekly magazine, the “Official Gazette.”
Once your trademark is registered, you need to maintain it so that the United States Patent and Trademark Office know that it is in use. Your registration lasts 10 years.
A state trademark costs between $50-$100 without the help of a lawyer, while federal trademark registration starts at $275.
Learn more about registering for a trademark.
What is a patent?
While a trademark protects brand identity assets like your name and logo, a patent protects your inventions so that no one else can replicate them.
There are three types of patents:
- Utility patents – for new, non-obvious, and useful inventions for processes, machines, manufactures, compositions of matter, or an improvement on a previous invention
- Design patents – for new and original designs of a manufactured product. This protects the appearance of an object, not its functionality.
- Plant patents – for the invention or discovery of an asexually reproducible plant that is distinct and new.
How do you get a patent?
In order to get a patent, you need to apply at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Before you apply, make sure that your invention qualifies for a patent, and be able to describe all aspects of your invention.
It’s very important that you document every step of the process as you make your invention so that you can describe it thoroughly. In order to get a patent, you also need to show that it works and that it’s different from all previous inventions.
You will need to do a thorough search of all U.S. and possibly foreign patents to make sure that your invention is truly new. As with a trademark, you can conduct an online search of U.S. patents. You will also want to look through scientific journals to see if there are similar inventions, and you may also want to visit a Patent and Trademark Depository Library as well.
Once you’re certain that your product is different enough from others to be eligible for a patent, you will file for a patent with the USPTO.
You can file for a provisional patent, which allows you to claim patent pending status for your invention, and which costs between $65-$260 to file. Or you can file for a regular patent, which will set you back around $1,500.
Learn more about the process of getting a patent.
What is a copyright?
According to the United States Copyright Office, copyright protects original works such as “literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and certain other intellectual works.” Every original work is actually copyrighted the moment it’s made. But when you register for a legal copyright, you protect your original work from being copied.
Many simple logos are actually not eligible for copyright because they don’t have the required level of originality.. You can obtain a copyright and a trademark for your logo if you want to be completely protected. A trademark will ensure your logo is different from your competitors’, while a copyright will protect it from being copied.
How do you get a copyright?
To copyright your logo, go to the website of the United States Copyright Office and use their electronic form.
You will need to fill out some information, including the name of the owner and creator, as well as upload a file with your logo on it. While the process of getting a copyright certificate can take up to eight months, your copyright goes into effect as soon as you file it. A copyright costs $35.
A summary of trademarking, patenting, and copyrighting
Do you know now whether you need to register for a trademark, patent, or copyright, or two or three of them?
To sum up:
- A trademark protects brand identity assets. It costs $50-$275 and lasts ten years. Its main function is ensuring that a competitor’s brand doesn’t infringe on yours.
- A patent protects new inventions. It costs $1,500 and lasts 20 years. Its purpose is to stop other people from copying your invention.
- A copyright protects original works like books, songs, and paintings. You may be able to protect your logo if it is original enough. It costs $35. While a trademark prevents your competitors from making a logo that is too similar to yours, a copyright protects the logo itself from being copied.