Monday, November 17, 2014
An IP primer for those who don't know what IP means
First, IP is short for intellectual property. This covers patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade dress. The work of your brain, or more often, the work of someone else's brain.
Last night while looking at something on Etsy, someone used "TM" following two terms. I had my suspicions that the USPTO was unaware of these of trademarks, and a quick search revealed they were not. You cannot tack TM on to something and comfort yourself that now no one else can use that word, term, etc. First, TM means you've applied for a trademark, but you don't have it yet. The USPTO can be slow, and if there are any issues, you can be using that TM for a long time. Once you have that trademark though, you can use a little R, for registered. Yay!
If you really want a trademark, and you're the first to use it for the product or service you're providing, go and apply for it sooner rather than later. It's not cheap, but it's cheaper than dealing with any mess that might come about later from delaying it. If you can't afford an attorney, you can apply for one on your own or find a service that helps you file for trademarks.
If you want a patent, you should get a lawyer. If it's something you worked on while at your job, that patent is going to your employer. There are utility patents and design patents, and possibly a few other types I never looked into. I've done a lot of research on patents, but I don't know much on getting one, except that ridiculous patents do make it through the system, and the patent office does make mistakes. To all first year attorneys, that includes acknowledging receipt of documents they never received. Shocking, I know. Fan yourselves and sniff your smelling salts and get over it.
I could go on forever about patents and the patent office (mostly on what I find frustrating about them), but I won't. If you think you have something that deserves a patent, find a patent attorney that can you help you with it. By the way, there are two types of patent attorneys- a patent prosecutor will help you get that patent, and a patent litigator will help you if you're suing or being sued over a patent. I know the patent prosecutor term doesn't seem to make sense, but that's what you need to look for when you want to get a patent.
Copyrights. I don't have much to say about getting them, since it's something I haven't researched. But I must say the same Etsy seller abusing the "TM" also featured copyrighted images on her products, and I'm guessing they weren't licensed. There are out of copyright works and also open content. Even if you don't get in trouble, it's still wrong to steal the work of others.