All businesses have specific features that make them identifiable. They may include a special logo or slogan known in their area. Learning how to protect these marketing resources, in addition to any unique inventions that fuel business success, is critical for all companies.
Patents, trademarks and service marks are all forms of intellectual property protection. They serve different purposes and protect different types of assets.
A patent is a form of protection granted to an inventor by a government authority. It gives the inventor exclusive rights to use, make and sell an invention for a certain period. In the United States, patents are issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
There are three main types of patents:
- Utility patents: Cover new and useful processes, machines, manufactures or compositions of matter
- Design patents: Protect new, original and ornamental designs for an article of manufacture
- Plant patents: Granted for the invention or discovery and asexual reproduction of any distinct and new variety of plant
The protection provided by a patent prevents others from making, using, selling or importing the patented invention without permission from the patent holder. This exclusive right is typically granted for 20 years for utility and plant patents and 15 years for design patents. After that time, the invention enters the public domain.
A trademark is a symbol, word, phrase, design or another marketing resource that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. Businesses use trademarks to protect brand names, slogans, logos and other identifiers crucial for brand recognition in the marketplace.
Trademarks don’t expire as long as they are in use and the owner continues to renew them at the appropriate intervals. If someone else uses a similar mark in a way that could confuse consumers, the trademark owner has the right to take legal action against trademark infringement.
A service mark is similar to a trademark but relates to services rather than goods. It identifies and distinguishes the services of one provider from those of others. Service marks are often slogans or brand names used in advertising services. The regulations regarding service marks are similar to those for trademarks.
Protecting intellectual property is critical for businesses. Learning more about this concern can significantly benefit businesses, so it’s vital to proactively work with someone who understands these matters.