by Intellectual Property Attorney Bill Honaker, the IP Guy
Intellectual property (IP) – intangible creations such as inventions, ideas and processes – covers some of the most valuable aspects of a business, yet many treat it as an afterthought. While IP law can be complex, confusing and overwhelming, it’s important to have an understanding of your rights, and luckily, the basics are fairly simple.
Let’s take a look at the four types of intellectual property – trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets and patents – and what you need to know about each of them.
Trademarks identify goods or services coming from a single source and can include business or product names, logos or slogans. Some examples of trademarks are the name Nike, the Coca-Cola bottle shape and the sound of the light saber from “Star Wars.”
In the United States, common law trademark protection is limited to the geographic area in which the trademark is used. For example, if you sell a product in Michigan only, the trademark rights to that product name exist only in Michigan. If you want to use that trademark in interstate commerce, you’ll want to register it federally as well.
While registering federally is not required, it gives you, the trademark owner, additional rights not available under common law. After registration, your rights extend throughout the U.S. and the trademark can become incontestable, which provides valuable presumptions in litigation. You also can use the “®” symbol, which shows the item is registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
Before you choose a trademark, you should search the USPTO database, also called the Trademark Electric Search System (TESS), to be sure that it is available in the U.S. After that, a more comprehensive search should be done to be sure there are no common law trademark uses. This can be difficult to do since no registration is required to establish common law rights to a trademark. Experienced trademark counsel can conduct these investigations to give you the confidence you need to invest in your trademark. If you are going to use your trademark internationally, a search should be done in those countries, too.
You must be careful when choosing a trademark as you don’t want to be sued for infringement. Don’t invest resources in marketing only to have to change the name and pay damages for infringement.
Bill Honaker, “The IP Guy” is a former USPTO Examiner, a partner with Dickinson-Wright, and is especially good at keeping clients out of court. To get answers to your questions about copyrights, give him a call at 248-318-7015 or email Bill@IPGuy.com.
Have questions about trademarks, patents, copyrights, trade secrets, or other types of Intellectual Property? Let’s talk and assess your IP today.