What if Someone Might Steal My Idea?
You’ve got an idea and it’s a good one. Or maybe you are already using it in business and you’re concerned someone might use it too. What should you do?
As a business owner your biggest asset might be your ideas. It’s important to protect them. To understand how, you need to figure out which of the following applies to your idea: (1) Trademark, (2) Copyright or (3) Patent.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the U.S. Copyright Office are the federal registers of original ideas and works. These are where someone who creates a work can best protect their original creation. But the three categories apply to different types of ideas respectively.
Simply put these can be categorized as follows:
Trademark: Logos, Brands and some names.
Copyright: Written content, original music, works of art or other creative expressions.
Patents: Inventions & Ideas.
If you have a logo or a brand name you are looking to protect, you are likely seeking a trademark. Trademarks can be registered in most states or with the USPTO. Though filing a trademark in your state may be an option, to create the broadest protections you will want to file with the USPTO.
First you’ll ensure that your potential ‘mark’ is not already trademarked. The USPTO database is searchable here. You’ll search for both exact and similar marks. If you have a slogan or brand, you can search exact and similar words to see if someone has beat you to it. If you can’t find anything similar then you may be in good shape.
However, even if a similar phrase or brand is actively trademarked with the USPTO, you’ll want to see in what ‘Class’ of goods and services it is registered. The USPTO has 45 ‘classes’ encompassing all manner of possible goods and services. The full list can be found here. If you aren’t sure in what Class your mark belongs, you can use the Trademark ID manual. If a similar mark is registered in a different class you may still be able to register your mark in a different class. Although the success of your application will depend on the details of your application.
Generally speaking, filing a trademark application costs $225, although more fees may apply depending on the specifics. On average the process takes six months from start to finish and mostly involves waiting. Once a trademark is granted from the USPTO you can rely on this to prevent others from using your logo, brand name, or even substantially similar marks.
Copyright is likely the most understood of these topics. Every individual who creates an original work is granted an automatic copyright. The minute you write something original, it's yours. Technically no one should be able to plagiarize your work because you own it as soon as you create it.
But, if you think it is notable enough or at risk of misuse you may still want to file a copyright. Unlike a trademark or patent, copyrights are registered with the U.S. Office of Copyright. Even though owners are granted an inherent copyright in their work registering that work creates a public record of ownership. That public record can be relied on to prevent intellectual property theft and provide the basis for filing legal action against anyone that is using your original work.
You can register an original work of authorship, photograph, podcasts, video, art or music. If you have a group of these works, such as a series of blog posts, you may be able to register them in a group for efficiency. Because of the diversity of mediums, the details of an application vary widely. But the filing fee can be as low as $45, although may exceed $100 depending on the specific application.
Patents apply to inventions. Of the three this might be the simplest to understand, still this category is broader than it might sound and includes machinery, a process, composition of materials, or a manufactured item. Even improving one of these existing items can be patentable.
LIke with trademarks and copyrights, a successful patent must be nonobvious and original. The fees can range from a few hundred dollars into the thousands, depending on complexity. Because patents are often highly technical and industry specific, you may choose to seek out a patent attorney specializing in your field.
Deciding to Register
You may not have to worry yet about registering your mark or creation. Maybe it's niche enough that there is a very low risk someone would use it. Yet because the cost is low, if it is central to your work or it is potentially valuable, you can register even before you begin using the mark in commerce. In such a case, even having the application filed will be helpful by making you first in line.
If you are considering filing a trademark or copyright please contact our firm to discuss further and see how we can help.