In a world where ideas and information can spread quickly, how can you protect your brilliant idea from being stolen?
If you have an exciting new concept you want to introduce to the world, you should protect it before you share it. In the United States there are several different types of protection you can receive for your business idea, original work or other type of intellectual property including trademarks, copyrights and patents. Learn more about each, below.
Trademarks usually relate to businesses and their unique brand identity—they're the TM and SM symbols you've seen on company marketing materials. Among other articles, a trademarked item can be a unique name, word or symbol (such as a logo) used by a business to identify itself.
In the 1950s, Gene and Betty Hoots expanded their Frigid Queen ice cream stand in Lincoln, Illinois to include burgers and fries. With the expanded menu came a new name. Rich Whittle wrote about their story on Business-opportunities.biz, explaining that the Hoots decided their queen deserved a king, so they changed their name to Burger King.They registered the name with the State and were granted exclusive state-rights to the name.
Within 10 years though, another Burger King was opening up throughout Illinois. To the Hoots dismay, the franchise had opened more than 50 Burger King restaurants in the state. In an effort to stop the corporate giant, The Hoots' sued and won. Sort of.
While the Hoots retained their rights to use the name Burger King within a 20-mile radius of Lincoln, Illinois, they did not succeed in preventing the franchise from growing their business throughout the state. According to Whittle, the giant Burger King retained the rights to use the name because they had grown to become a nationwide chain and had international Trademark protection. The one hitch: Burger King (the franchise) needs to stay outside of the Hoots' 20-mile radius, or pay them to do business there.
According to the US Copyright Office, a copyright is grounded in the US Constitution and protects “original works of authorship.” This can include written works (such as novels or plays), creative projects and even computer programs.
Recently, gaming giant Nintendo won a lawsuit against an Australian company that sold a product capable of duplicating Nintendo games. Nintendo's copyright protection enabled the brand to prevent illegal duplication of its creative work—and in this case, receive a substantial payout.
A patent is protection for an invention or discovery. Obtaining a patent for your invention is a smart of way of discouraging others from stealing—and profiting from—your work. Recently Apple filed a lawsuit against HTC, a Taiwanese company that produces mobile devices for companies such as Google. Apple is claiming that HTC has infringed on 20 patents, including the technology behind touch-screens, gesture recognition and scrolling.
The US Patent and Trademark Office manages trademarks and patents. Registering a trademark with the USPTO can help prevent others from using the protected mark domestically. It also extends protection of an item outside of the US, as it can be the basis on which international trademark registration can be requested. Plus, a registration with US Customs may help stop the importation of goods that infringe upon your rights.
Protecting intellectual property is vital to preserving the right to your ideas or inventions. Stop thefts before they start by getting the protection you need today.
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This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.