Intellectual Property FAQ's

Answers to common questions about Intellectual Property, Copyrights, Trademarks, and Patents

Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.

Copyright protects original works of authorship, while a patent protects inventions or discoveries. Ideas and discoveries are not protected by the copyright law, although the way in which they are expressed may be. A trademark protects words, phrases, symbols, or designs identifying the source of the goods or services of one party and distinguishing them from those of others.

A patent is a property right granted by the Government of the United States of America to an inventor "to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States" for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted.

It's hard to predict exactly how long it will take an application to mature into a registration because so many factors can affect the process. Approximately three months after you successfully submit your application, it will be assigned to a USPTO examining attorney for review. The attorney will determine if your application meets all applicable legal requirements, and if it doesn't you will be notified in an email with a link to an office action (official letter from the USPTO). The total time for an application to be processed may be anywhere from almost a year to several years, depending on the basis for filing, and the legal issues which may arise in the examination of the application.

They are used by a manufacturer or seller of an article to inform the public that an application for patent on that article is on file in the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The law imposes a fine on those who use these terms falsely to deceive the public.

For applications filed on or after June 8, 1995, utility and plant patents are granted for a term which begins with the date of the grant and usually ends 20 years from the date you first applied for the patent subject to the payment of appropriate maintenance fees for a utility patent. There are no maintenance fees for plant patents . Design patents last 15 years from the date you are granted the patent. No maintenance fees are required for design patents.

A utility patent may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, compositions of matter, or any new useful improvement thereof. A design patent may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.

Trademarks protect words, names, symbols, sounds, or colors that distinguish goods and services from those manufactured or sold by others and indicate the source of the goods. Trademarks, unlike patents, can be renewed forever as long as they are being used in commerce. Trademarks are registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

A service mark is a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination thereof, that identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than goods. The term "trademark" is often used to refer to both trademarks and service marks.

The term of copyright for a particular work depends on several factors, including whether it has been published, and, if so, the date of first publication. As a general rule, for works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. For an anonymous work, a pseudonymous work, or a work made for hire, the copyright endures for a term of 95 years from the year of its first publication or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first. For works first published prior to 1978, the term will vary depending on several factors.