It can be hard for new and growing businesses to understand what intellectual property is and to know whether securing intellectual property assets makes business sense for them. This post highlights some of the key differences between three of the most well-known types of IP.

The primary types of IP protection that businesses may be interested in are generally patents, copyrights, and trademarks. Each type of IP offers a certain type of protection, but the costs and benefits associated with each are quite different.

PATENTS

As we discussed in our blog post on patents, “[p]atents apply to most things we usually think of as “inventions,” including, in some cases, offerings incorporating software. In the U.S., patents are administered by the Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).” A patent serves to give the inventor the right to “exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling” the invention in the United States or “importing” the invention into the United States.

Timing & Costs
Patent application costs vary with the complexity of the invention. However, for a standard utility patent, one can expect to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $8000-$10,000 in application preparation fees, exclusive of government fees. Patents are generally the most expensive IP asset to acquire. Patents generally last for 20 years after the filing date.

COPYRIGHTS

As described in our blog post on copyrights, copyright protection applies to “original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression.” This means that almost any writing, sound recording, film, or photograph will be protected by copyright if there is any creativity whatsoever in its creation. So the way you express an idea, like a work of fiction or software in code, falls under copyright law.

Timing & Costs

An official copyright registration may be easy to get and should not cost too much. Government registration fees can be as little as $35 and attorney’s fees are generally in the $250-$500 range for simple filings. The whole process may only take four months. In general, copyrights last for the lifetime of the person who created the work, plus 70 years after that person’s death.

TRADEMARKS

In our trademark blog post, we note that trademark protection applies to any “word, name, symbol, or device” used in commerce. The use is right there in the name: it’s a mark used in trade. Generally, trademarks indicate the source of a good or service. Trademarks can be used without registering them, but marks that are important for a business should be researched and registered. The goals of trademark protection are to avoid customer confusion in the marketplace and to reward the originators and users of a specific mark in commerce.

Timing & Costs

Research costs can be as extensive and expensive as you want, since relevant prior uses of similar marks may include prior uses in the United States and other countries (even hard-to-find uses). Most entities opt for a preliminary search at the USPTO. More complex usage services are pricier and more comprehensive in the databases that are searched. A U.S. Trademark application filing is typically under $1000 per application inclusive of government fees. Trademark registrations can last for as long as a mark is used in commerce, if regular statutorily-required maintenance fees and statements demonstrating their use in commerce are filed.

This is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have questions about any of these topics, you should consult with a lawyer.