Various types of intellectual property can be used to protect your idea – utility patents, design patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets.
Each type of intellectual property protects your idea differently. Typically, you will use only one type of intellectual property to protect your idea. However, some ideas require you to pursue multiple types of intellectual property to sufficiently protect your idea.
Below is a chart which what each type of intellectual property protects.
|Type of IP||Protects||Infringement||Registration Process||Term||Comparative Costs|
|PATENTS - Utility Patent||Functional Aspects||Make, Use, Offer, Sale, Import||Yes||20 years from filing date||Expensive|
|PATENTS - Design Patent||Ornamental Features||Make, Use, Offer, Sale, Import||Yes||15 years from grant date||Moderate|
|TRADEMARKS||Brands||Use in commerce||Optional||Indefinite as long as in use||Inexpensive|
|COPYRIGHTS||Works of Authorship||Copying, Derivative works, Performance, etc.||Optional||Life plus 70 years||Inexpensive|
What is a utility patent and how it protects your idea?
A utility patent allows you to exclude others from copying your useful invention. Most of the time, when people talk about patents, they are referring to a utility patent. Securing a utility patent can be between $15,000 and $30,000. As such, we generally recommend securing a utility patent for big-money ideas only. These are ideas in which the profit potential outweighs the high cost of securing the utility patent.
Read my articles on the cost of a utility patent and the process for obtaining a utility patent.
If you want to get a utility patent, read my article on how to patent an idea.
What is a design patent and how it protects your idea?
A design patent allows you to exclude others from copying your ornamental designs. Design patents protect the aesthetic look of a product. The cost to obtain a design patent is about $4,000 to $5000. However, the low cost of a design patent attracts many inventors into mistakenly trying to protect their useful inventions with the design patent. That would be a mistake since design patents cannot protect useful features.
Please read my article about using a design patent to protect your idea.
What is a trademark and how it protects your idea?
A trademark is a word or logo that lets consumers know the source of the product or service. For example, when you see the following shape, you understand that the Coca-Cola Bottling Company produced the product.
I highly recommend you go through the trademark registration process when launching your product or service.
First, suppose a competitor starts a business near you using the same or similar mark. In that case, you will have difficulty stopping them from using that mark without a registration.
Second, the trademark process also involves a trademark search which clears your mark for adoption and use. If someone else is already using the same or similar mark, you would infringe on their trademark. They can stop you from using their mark. You are now a trademark infringer. You would have to throw away your inventory of products which could cost you tens of thousands of dollars.
What is a copyright and how it protects your idea?
A copyright allows you to reproduce your books, drawings, and designs. Copyrights are inexpensive to obtain. You can get a copyright for your work of authorship at www.copyright.gov. The government fee is about $70 per work.
What is a trade secret and how it protects your idea?
A trade secret is any information that is valuable to your business. Typical examples of trade secrets are customer lists, manufacturing know-how, etc. To protect your trade secret information, take reasonable steps to keep the information secret.
For example, only let people know about your trade secret information on a need-to-know basis. If they don’t need to know the trade secret information, don’t let them have access to your trade secret information. You should have non-disclosure agreements in place with key personnel that needs to know the trade secret information.