IP & Copyright

7 Things to Place In Your Back Pocket

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Happy Thanksgiving!! I hope everyone takes at least three trips to the dinner table, two naps in your bed, and one family outing — whether it be to see Hunger Games, look at Christmas lights, or pick up more beer for your uncles. Do it. And if you run out of topics to discuss or if you’re one of those people who just remember things better when they’re in list form then this is for you!

Here are 7 things that I think you should know about intellectual property. Before you take that first nap of the day, think about it. Think about your thoughts — how you express them and how you can protect that expression. What about that business you wanted to start — what did you want to call it again? How would you like it if someone tried to capitalize off of the goodwill you built behind that name?

That’s what I thought.

1. You don’t need to register your creation with the US Copyright Office to have copyright protection. The moment you place your expression on paper (or in some tangible form) it’s protected by copyright. But here’s the catch: if someone infringes on your copyrighted material, you will have to register to bring suit.

2. Federal registration of a trademark isn’t necessary either! You have trademark rights in the name or slogan that you create the moment you place it into commerce. (Commerce = in the market.) Also, you don’t need federal registration to use the TM symbol either. The ® is off limits unless you’re registered though.

3. There are two types of patents. Design patents are for, well, novel designs. For example, the sleek makeup of iphone display stands is covered by a design patent. Utility patents protect new inventions and processes, i.e the detection of your headphones in your phone or the analysis of your face to unlock an Android. Clearly, I have phones on the brain today.


4. Applications filed with the Copyright Office are public records and only $35. Why not register your art with the Copyright Office? Shine bright like a diamond, Riri.  But keep in mind that this is not the avenue you want to take if you’re trying to protect your family’s mac-and-cheese recipe.

5.  Registration of a mark is not guaranteed upon filing. Your potential mark may cause confusion with another owner’s mark, among other issues. It’s $325 to file a trademark application online and $375 to file for federal registration on paper. Your money may not be refunded so it’s a good idea to conduct a preliminary search (or hire an attorney to do so) before you file.

6. Copyright Law doesn’t protect ideas, only the expression of those ideas. Don’t rely on Copyright Law for that great business idea you have brewing. I would recommend nondisclosure agreements. If you’re meeting with investors to build your capital, get them to sign nondisclosure agreements so that if they share or utilize your idea beyond the bounds you establish you’ll be able to bring a breach of contract suit.

7. Timing. Copyright protection (for works created after ’78) lasts from the moment of creation until the end of the author’s life plus 70 years. Trademark registration can last indefinitely as long as you file the requested paperwork the years you are told. Utility patents filed after June 8, 1995 are granted protection for 20 years from the date of the application. Design patents have protection for 14 years from the date the patent is granted.

Learn more at these sites:

On Copyrights

On Trademarks

On Patents


Featured image courtesy of [Lynn Friedman via Flickr]

Gena Thomas
Gena Thomas, a recent graduate of Howard University School of Law, was born and raised in Lafayette, Louisiana. A graduate of The University of Texas at Austin, she enjoys watching scary movies and acquiring calories from chocolates of all sorts. Contact Gena at staff@LawStreetMedia.com.



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