Protecting your intellectual property - what's what

Protect your ideas

Patents Trademarks Copyrights Trade Secrets
Property Protected Process, machine, manufacture, composition of matter, or improvement thereof. Any distinct word, name, symbol, or device used to identify a source of goods or services. Original work of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Commercially valuable information not generally known or readily ascertainable, if reasonable efforts are used to keep it secret.
Must be useful, novel and non-obvious. Inherently distinctive if arbitrary, fanciful, or suggestive. Fixed if it is sufficiently permanent (written down, recorded, painted, saved electronically, etc.) Disclosure to one person without confidence may destroy a trade secret.
Also distinctive if descriptive with acquired secondary meaning. Originality requires some amount of creativity by the author. More efforts required for more valuable secrets.
Action Required U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Application required. U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for federal protection. Secretary of State’s office for state protection. Registration advised but not required. U.S. Copyright Office within the Library of Congress. Registration advised by not required. NONE
Rights Right to exclude others from making, using, selling, or offering for sale in U.S. or importing to U.S. Right to stop others from using confusingly similar marks in commerce. Exclusive right to reproduce, prepare derivative works, distribute, perform publicly, and display publicly. Right to sue others from improperly acquiring the trade secret or breaching confidence regarding the trade secret. Does not prevent reverse engineering.
Public Notice Pat. Pending. TM or SM if not registered with USPTO. “Copyright” or ©, year of first publication, author’s name. Notice to show confidential nature to employees and anyone else with access to the information.
Pat. No. ######. ® if registered with USPTO. © 2023 Joe Smith.
Duration Generally, 20 years from the earliest US filing date for which priority is claimed. Provisional applications are excluded in this calculation. Non-registered: No limit as long as you continually use it. Life of the author plus 70 years. No limit as long as it still qualifies as a trade secret.
Registered: No limit as long as you continually use it and file appropriate renewal papers. Work for hire: the earlier of 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation.
Infringement Every claim limitation in the patent is found, literally or equivalently, in the accused device or method. Infringer’s mark causes a likelihood of confusion with your mark. Infringer has copied your work without permission. Another has knowingly misappropriated your trade secret for his or her own gain or to harm you.
If your mark is famous, then you can also sue if another dilutes or tarnishes your mark. Infringer’s work is substantially similar to yours.

Disclaimer: We believe this to be accurate at the time is of its writing, but the laws may change rapidly. We may not always end up getting this webpage updated on a timely basis. Please seek advice of an attorney to obtain the current information.

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