Intellectual Property, Patents, and Trademarks
Intellectual property (IP), refers to creations of the mind: inventions; literary and artistic works; and symbols, names and images used in commerce. When you refer to IP, you could be talking about patents, trademarks and service marks, and copyright.
Patents grant an exclusive property right to the inventor or owner, and basically provide the right for the owner to decide how (or if) the patented property can be used by others. You can learn more about patents and how to apply through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
Trademarks, also provided through the USPTO, can be a word, phrase, symbol, or design that distinguishes the source of the good from other sources. Think ‘Nike swoosh’, which is a trademarked symbol representing the Nike company. If your business provides a service, you would use a service mark instead of a trademark.
Copyright is a legal term to describe the rights creators have over literary or artistic works. It isn’t required to register, as copyright exists from the time the work was created. However, registration with the U.S. Copyright Office is recommended and would be necessary if you needed to file a lawsuit for infringement of your work.
There are many reasons your intellectual property should be protected. Without protection, your IP is more easily subject to patent infringement, trademark counterfeiting, and copyright piracy. Even with protective measures in place, many times a small business lacks the resources to effectively protect their IP. Recognizing this, the U.S. Government has free tools and resources available to help businesses tackle IP protection and enforcement.
Obtaining IP protection can be complicated so it's a good idea to review your options. However, it is generally advised that you work with an experienced attorney to help you through the protection process.