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Well, Actually, Everyone Has Questions About IP

Nobody likes a ‘well, actually.’ Obviously, I don’t interrupt strangers when they’re having a nice time, but I sure would like to.  I overheard a man at a cocktail party say, “I really should trademark my songs.” Well, actually, you need to copyright those.  I overheard someone else comment on how much she liked a certain logo.  “I’d love to patent something like that.” Well, actually, you’d trademark that.

But even my inner monologue must give credit where it’s due: patents, copyrights, and trademarks all fall under the umbrella of intellectual property.  What’s the difference?  Well, actually…

Trademarks:

Trademarks are words, symbols, or a combination of the two that signify the source of goods and services.  You can also trademark sounds and scents.  In ancient days, a craftsman would sign the product he produced.  As technology and commerce advanced, those signatures became more sophisticated and evolved into trademarks.  Take the MGM lion, for example, or the Nike swoosh.  They indicate who made the product.  The public relies on the trademark the same way consumers used to rely on a craftsman’s signature.  United States trademark registrations are generally renewed every ten years.  Trademark owners have the exclusive right to use their marks in commerce for the goods and services named in their trademark registrations.  

If you are interested in filing a trademark application, or wish to enforce you trademark rights, we can help you.  Contact us at trademarks@fghwlaw.com, or by calling us at 214-361-5600.

Copyrights:

Copyrights protect the content of artistic works like songs, novels, poems, television shows, and movies.  Copyright owners also have the exclusive right to use, and permit others to use, the copyrighted material.  Distribution of copyrighted material without specific permission from the copyright owner can sometimes result in takedown notices, demand letters, and even substantial lawsuits. Further, incorporation of copyrighted material in your own content may have similar undesirable results.

If you have questions about how to copyright your original works, or how to use copyrighted materials, contact us at trademarks@fghwlaw.com, or by calling us at 214-361-5600.

Patents:

Patents protect inventions, like new products or new technical processes.  Inventors in myriad industries may patent their inventions for commercial use, from pharmaceuticals to software to shoes.  They protect the patent owner’s exclusive right to use the invention in commerce.  The patent owner decides who, if anyone, may use the invention for the protected period of time.  Some owners guard their patents closely, and some release their patents for others to use for a price or for free.  Patents usually last for 20 years before the invention becomes public domain.

Patents are the one thing we cannot directly assist you with, although we are happy to provide you with a referral to an appropriate patent attorney.  To determine if you need a patent, trademark, or copyright, contact us at trademarks@fghwlaw.com, or by calling us at 214-361-5600.

Think of it this way, Apple patents new cell phone technology.  It trademarks the name and logo for the new technology. And if Apple wants to use a song for the commercial, they’ll get permission from the band who holds the copyright to the song.

Why does it even matter?  Well, actually…

What is the USPTO?

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is the federal agency that grants patents and registers trademarks to individuals and organizations.  A patent protects an invention or process.  A trademark primarily protects a word, phrase, or design that identifies the source of a business’s products or services.  Protecting your business through USPTO trademark registration yields numerous legal benefits.

  • Registering a trademark with the USPTO gives you the legal presumption of ownership and the exclusive right to use the mark in connection with the goods or services your business offers.  The USPTO will not register another company’s mark if it is confusingly similar to yours.

    This exclusivity protects the public as it helps your company maintain its distinct identity and good reputation in the marketplace.  When consumers see your mark, they know where it comes from.  The general public associates your business with the product or service they purchased.  How many sportswear companies are called Nike?  How many fast food restaurants are called McDonald’s?  Ensuring that consumers can easily identify the source of their purchases has the dual benefit of protecting your brand.
  • Your mark will be included in all of the USPTO’s online databases.  Mere registration potentially deters other businesses from using identical or similar marks, further protecting your identity and reputation.
  • Registration strengthens your legal position against infringing parties.  The ® symbol serves as a notice to the public of your trademark rights.  It also serves as the basis for bringing suit against anyone who attempts to use your intellectual property for their own gain.
  • A registered mark gives your business the basis for international registration, if you wish to expand your business to foreign countries.
  • You may prevent counterfeit items from being imported into the United States by recording your trademark with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.