It's important as a business owner to protect your intellectual property rights. When you're just starting out, your patents, trademarks or copyrights are often the only assets you have. Here are 2 ways to guard against infringement by others:
Get a Patent
The point of having a patent is to stop others from imitating your product. It's a great way to protect your intellectual property, but you must determine whether getting a patent is feasible. The first step is to research whether someone else already patented your invention. If no one else has a patent, then you must decide whether or not you'll be able to make money from your product and whether the amount you make outweighs the legal fees to register and protect your patent. Once you file a patent, you may need to file additional ones down the road, and therefore you must factor this into your decision.
If you've considered the costs and it's still monetarily worthwhile, then you should protect your product by filing a patent. Filing patents can be complicated, so you'll want to hire an attorney to file your application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. You'll have to pay for filing and examination fees, patent search fees and an hourly or flat rate to your lawyer.
Get a Federal Trademark
Trademark protection stops confusion in the marketplace regarding your product or service. You don't want your competitors operating under your business name. Imagine someone doing a search in Google for your name or catchy tag line and instead of coming to your business to buy your products or services, they go the first or second business listed that is using your name. You can prevent this by getting a registered federal trademark. This only protects you in the United States, but the registration is still worth it, especially for customers and clients who will do business with you offline. In the reverse, if you don't go through the process of registering your trademark, you may not realize that you are using someone else's trademark until you have invested a lot of time, money and marketing in that mark. If you are infringing on another business' intellectual property, you will have to rename your business, which is not desirable if you're building up a brand.
To register a federal trademark, you have to conduct a trademark search using the United States Patent and Trademark Office to make sure that it's not already registered. Then, you can complete an application online in which you'll be asked when you first used the mark, a description of how you'll use the mark on your services and products, a description of the mark (including any drawings) and what category your mark should be included under. The benefit of filing online instead of by mail is the online help that they'll give you in each section. You'll also save $50 to $75 in registration fees if you file online.
When you file to get your patent or to register your trademark, you must be prepared for potential objections from a competitor or unrelated business. There will be a hearing to resolve these objections, but this means more legal fees. Make sure you budget for any potential costs to defend and maintain your intellectual property rights.
Daphne Mallory, Esq. is the co-owner of Mallory Writing Services and has written more than 100 articles helping home based business owners and entrepreneurs start and market their business. You can learn more about her here.