Intellectual property is the broad term for creations of the human mind. IP rights protect the interest of the creators by giving them property rights over their creations. IP comes in many forms such as literary, artistic and scientific works. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is the federal agency responsible for granting patents and registering trademarks. Becoming familiar with the services of the USPTO will help you to manage your IP and develop a solid and useful IP strategy.

In all matters, it is essential that you preserve the confidentiality of your idea while working with third-party interests.  Take time to educate yourself on what constitutes IP and how to protect it. Find out what kind of IP protection you need by using the USPTO’s IP Awareness Assessment Tool. The tool guides you through questions and returns a report to you about which IP areas, i.e. patents, trademarks, etc. you may need to apply to your business.

Start your IP education by reading MTIP’s Innovator’s Guide. In it, you’ll learn how to talk about your invention before obtaining a patent, how to keep invention records, and other key tips about IP. You can also learn more about how to conduct your own patent search by reading MTIP’s A Preliminary Approach to Patent Searching.

The US Patent and Trademarks Office inventor and entrepreneur resources page offers essential information for startups and inventors about patents, trademarks, scam prevention and other resources available to you.

Seasoned inventors know that using a non-disclosure agreement or NDA (confidentiality agreement) is critical to protecting IP while at the same time, opening the communication lines to discuss the innovation. An NDA is a contract that creates a confidential relationship between parties to protect nonpublic business information. NDA’s are commonly signed between two parties who are considering doing business together. NDA’s can be mutual and protect both parties with one agreement.

Performing the Preliminary Patent Search

A major requirement of successful participation in the SBIR Program is a demonstration of idea innovation. Agencies that offer SBIR grants expect applicants to verify that the proposed idea is unique, new and innovative.

One of the first steps to verify the authenticity of your idea is to conduct a patent search. A patent is actually a right, granted by a government or quasi-governmental authority, to exclude others from making, using or selling an invention within a certain jurisdiction for a limited period of time. A patent does not give its owner the right to make, use or sell a claimed invention, because practicing one’s own invention may infringe on the claims of a prior-issued patent that has not expired. One of the first steps in determining the uniqueness of an idea is to search the United States Patent and Trademark Office patent database.

Caution: In the U.S., it is not necessary for an inventor or organization to be represented by a patent professional. However, a patent agent or a patent attorney registered to practice before a patent office can provide invaluable assistance to an inventor or organization seeking to evaluate and protect new technologies. Selecting an appropriate professional can be an important step in maximizing the value of an innovation.

Trademarks

From the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office:

A trademark is a brand name. A trademark or service mark includes any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used or intended to be used to identify and distinguish the goods/services of one seller or provider from those of others, and to indicate the source of the goods/services. Although federal registration of a mark is not mandatory, it has several advantages, including notice to the public of the registrant’s claim of ownership of the mark, legal presumption of ownership nationwide, and exclusive right to use the mark on or in connection with the goods/services listed in the registration.

 

Copyrights

From the U.S. Copyright Office:

Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U.S. Code) to the authors of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works.