Small Business Startups – Making It Legal

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III.  The importance of Intellectual Properties -Trademarks , Patents, Copyrights

Intellectual Property: What You Can’t See

Your company’s intangible assets — its reputation, name recognition, know-how and/or creative ideas — have no physical existence, yet they have commercial value. They can be destroyed or stolen and thus they should be protected. Three types of intellectual property protection are available:

Patents A patent is a property right granted by the U.S. government to an inventor to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale or selling an invention throughout the U.S. or importing the invention into the U.S. for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted.

Original machines, technical processes or methods, manufactured items and chemical compositions may be patented. “Utility patents,” for new inventions or functional improvements of existing inventions, remain in effect for 20 years; “design patents” are effective for 14 years.

Once the inventor discloses the invention publicly, he/she has a year to file for a patent with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (www.uspto.gov). You can apply for a patent online yourself; however, because of the complexities of filing patent applications, the USPTO recommends getting specialized legal help.

Key elements of patent applications are “claims,” which describe the essential features that distinguish the invention.

Trademarks Broadly speaking, trademarks are words, symbols, names, Internet domain names, packaging and labeling that distinguish one business’s product from another’s. Trademarks may be registered through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office or, for more limited state protection, within your local stae government. Although registration provides greater protection, trademarks that are not registered still legally protect owners.

Copyrights Original writing, musical works, artistic designs and other works of expression are protected under federal copyright law, which gives the author exclusive rights to use the works. Copyright lasts 70 years after the author’s death.

Although an author’s copyright is automatic when a work is created, it’s a good idea to use a copyright notice because it informs the public and competitors that a work is protected. For copyright notices, simply place the word “copyright” or the symbol ©, the first year of publication and the name of the owner of the copyright on the work.

Copyright registration is voluntary; however, you have to register through the U.S. Copyright Office at the Library of Congress (www.copyright.gov) if you wish to bring a lawsuit

for infringement.

This series ongoing series  handbook prepared by Marjorie Weber was prepared will also be part of the Miami Bayside Foundation to qualify small business owners for the Miami Bayside Foundation loan program.

This legal primer is meant to serve as an information overview. Small business owners have unique legal needs which require professionals. For all legal matters it is strongly recommended to consult with an attorney located in your state to ensure your business is properly set up and protected.

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