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Patent, copyright or trademark: Which is right for your Kansas City business?

Patents, Trademarks, Copyright: Which Is Right for Your KC Business?

If you’ve created something like a song, a book, a product or a logo, you should know about intellectual property (aka creations of the mind) … because without the proper protection, another person can copy your creation and legally claim it as theirs, along with a whole host of other not-so-great consequences. Plus with stats from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, like $122.8 billion in sales related to intellectual property (and that was from 2014), it’s also worth it money-wise for your business.

Patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets protect different things, and you or your company might end up owning some or all four of them. We’ll outline each type so you can have a better foundation when you talk with an expert about which you should pursue and how to lock in each option. Disclaimer: We’re not a legal firm, so we can’t offer legal advice. Instead, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has given us some key information that’ll help you build that foundation of understanding.

> > > > Want some help right now from real people? Give us a call at 816-235-6500 or tell us what you need help with, and we’ll build your personal action plan to help you reach your next steps.


What are they? You’re probably familiar with trademarks. According to the USPTO, those are “any word, name symbol, device (or any combination of those) that identify the source of products and services”— key word there is “source.”

What’s the point? Trademarks let consumers pinpoint where or who is behind a product or service, which, in theory, is supposed to help inform consumers’ buying decisions. The goal is also to push those who own a trademark to offer those goods and services at a “consistent quality and to build goodwill in the trademark.”

What are some examples? It can cover “any word, slogan, symbol, design or any combination of those, including product packaging, product design and trade dress,” according to the USPTO. It can also cover a “sound, color or smell.”

What does a federally registered trademark do for you? It gives you the right to enforce the trademark across the United States and take legal action in federal courts. You also can record the mark with customs, as it lets you file overseas. Plus, your entry will be in the U.S. trademark database.

How long do they last? The great thing about trademarks is they can last forever if you keep using them and they’re used properly—that means you have to file those maintenance documents in time.

On the flipside, patents and copyrights do have a shelf life but offer some advantages trademarks don’t.

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What is it? So there are a few components that define copyright. They’re, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, “original works of authorship,” like books, plays, poems, film, songs, paintings and other works that are “fixed in a tangible medium.” You can use the copyright symbol without registration.

Why register? Well, for one, if the court finds another party infringed on your copyright, you are able to be seek statutory damages and/or attorney’s fees. Plus, it lets the owner of the copyright record the registration with the U.S. Customs Service to protect infringing copies to be imported. Bottom line: You’ll need to register your copyright to bring an infringement suit against works that originated in the U.S.

How long do they last? From the moment you create something, the copyright lasts the life of the author plus 70 years after the author dies. Now, for works made for hire (those are aka company-owned copyrights), the copyright on those lasts 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever comes first.


What are they? Patents are basically a property right: That means there’s a “right to exclude others from making, using, selling, offering for sale or importing the claimed invention,” according to the U.S. Patent and Trade Office. Now, there are some caveats that go along with that advantage. Patents have a limited term, they offer protection only in the territory that granted it (there’s no blanket worldwide patent) and you’ll have to disclose the invention if you want the protection of what’s basically a time-limited monopoly.

Why get one? Patents can help you get into a market or deter others from entering that market. Plus, a big thing, you can take legal action against someone you believe is infringing on your patent, like a competitor.

There are also some other perks you might not know about: You can use a patent as collateral to get funding, and it can be a marketing tool to promote interesting features of your product.

Plus some people even make a business out of it: Patents can create revenue if you sell or license them like you would for property.

What kinds of patents are out there? Utility patents protect how an invention works or how it’s made. So for example, that could include the process used to create something, the machine that’s used to create a product, the materials needed to make an item or a creation that, say, might require two or more ingredients to make something new. (An expert can outline in detail these four types of utility patents.)

Design patents protect how a product looks, aka the ornamental expression.

Plant patents are for a new plant that can reproduce asexually, and you’ll get 20 years from when you file.

There’s a lot more to learn about the patent process as well as trademarks and copyrights, but these terms will arm you with some background knowledge before you seek help from an expert.

> > > > > Have more questions about what form of intellectual property is right for you? Want to go deeper with trademarks, copyrights and patents with an expert? Call KCSourceLink at 816-235-6500 or ask your question here, and we’ll outline your next steps and connect you with people and resources that can help (often at no or a low cost).

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