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About Intellectual Property

Intellectual property is any innovation, commercial or artistic, or any unique name, symbol, logo or design used commercially.  Often known as IP, intellectual property allows people to own their creativity and innovation in the same way that they can own physical property.

Trademark registrations have 10-year terms and can be renewed for additional 10-year terms if you prove the mark is still in use for all the goods and/or services stated.  Additionally, between the fifth and sixth anniversary of a mark’s registration, you must file evidence with the PTO showing that you are still using your mark.  If you do not, your registration will be canceled.

Trademarks that have been “federally registered” with the USPTO may use the R-in-a-circle (®) symbol. Trademarks and service marks that have been filed and are awaiting registration from the USPTO may use the TM (TM) and SM (SM) symbols respectively.

A patent is a right to exclude others from doing what you invented. 

There are, however, a number different types of patents.

There are U.S. patents, and there are foreign patents.  U.S. patents are rights granted by the U.S. government and exclude only actions within the United States.  Likewise, patents issued by a foreign government may be enforced only in that foreign country.

Also, in the United States, there are utility patents, and there are design patents.  When most people think of a patent, typical it is a utility patent that first comes to mind.  Utility patents protect the idea or function of an invention.  In contrast, design patents protect the overall appearance of an invention. Properly written, a utility patent application attempts to describe and claim for the inventor his or her invention as broadly as possible.  Similarly, properly written, a design patent attempts to claim the invented design as broadly as possible. What is the difference between a utility patent and a design patent?

A utility patent covers the functional aspects of an invention. A utility patent expires 20 years from the filing date. In 2006, it took approximately 30 months from filing until an examiner came to a decision. The length of time varies depending on the field and complexity of the patent. Examples of things that can be covered by a utility patent are a newly created fabric or a new clasp for a purse.

A design patent covers the ornamental aspects of an invention. They generally issue 8-20 months after filing and are protected for 14 years from the filing date. Design patents often cover long-term fashion items such as shoes, jewelry, and accessories.

A trade secret is information which gives a business an advantage over its competitors.  Trade secrets include such things as customer identities and preferences, vendors, marketing strategies, manufacturing processes, formulas and other competitively valuable information.  An example trade secret would be a hair salon’s secret process in applying hair dye to make the color stay longer.

Trade secrets are not registered and can last as long as the invention is kept a secret.