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Protect Your Ideas

Intellectual Property FAQs

What is a patent and how do I know if my invention is eligible for a patent?

A patent for an invention is the grant of a property right to the inventor issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Patent holders have the right to exclude others from making, using, or selling the invention described in the patent deed. The intent of patents is to give the developer of a new product time to recover development expenditures and startup costs without having to fight competition. Eligibility Patents cannot be obtained for inventions that have been publicly disclosed, are in use, or marketed in the United States for one year prior to the filing of the patent application. Secondly, a thorough patent search, preferably done by a professional, must be conducted to make certain that the applicant's idea hasn't already been patented.

What is a provisional patent?

Provisional applications are like temporary placeholders; they allow inventors to file inexpensively without a formal patent claim, oath, or declaration. Once the application is filed, the applicant has one year to investigate the feasibility, marketability, patentability, and potential license interest of the invention before deciding to file a formal patent application. Meanwhile, the term patent pending can be applied to the invention, and the inventor enjoys a calendar edge on other inventors who may file for the same invention.

What exactly does copyright protect?

Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship, including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed. For more information refer go to the U.S. Copyright Office web site.

Can you give me some information on companies that can help with my invention?

(From the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office) Invention development companies are private and public research companies that help inventors develop, patent, and promote their ideas so they can be commercially licensed or sold. While many of these organizations are legitimate, some are not. Here are seven tips to help you make smart invention development decisions:

  • Learn About the Patent Process. When you understand the basics of how to get a patent, you will know when invention marketers are making promises they or the patent system can't deliver.

  • Do Your Homework. Check the organization's references, ask for credentials, and then check them.

  • Be Realistic. Not every invention is patentable. Be wary of any developer willing to promote virtually any invention.

  • Know Where Your Money Is Going. Ask the organization how your money will be spent. Be on guard against large upfront fees.

  • Protect Your Rights. DO NOT disclose your invention to a developer over the phone before first signing a confidentiality agreement. You could forfeit valuable patent rights.

  • Track Your Invention's Progress. Once you decide to use an invention-development organization, deal directly with the agent or patent attorney who will be handling your patent application.

  • Don't Get Discouraged! The patent process can be very complicated, so you will probably need professional help. There are many good patent agents and attorneys that can help you. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office maintains a nationwide register of attorneys and agents who meet our legal, scientific, and technical requirements.

Do I need a patent attorney or agent to file my patent application?

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) strongly recommends that all prospective applicants retain the services of a registered patent attorney or patent agent to prepare and prosecute their applications. For information on registered patent attorneys and agents in your area, you may visit the USPTO's Office of Enrollment and Discipline Web site. Upon request, the USPTO will send information that provides a broad overview of the process of obtaining a United States patent. They will include general requirements and a listing of the Patent and Trademark Depository Libraries.

I am worried about using a name for my business that someone else may already be using. How would I go about researching a name I want to use for my new business?

There are a number of sources that you can use to research an existing business name. The following is a list of some of the most common places to begin your search:

  • Start with your county to see if the name has been registered as a DBA.

  • Check with your state to see if the name has been taken by an existing corporation or limited liability company.

  • Perform an Internet search of the name you are interested in; use various search engines.

  • Conduct a free trademark search at NameProtect.

I am looking for the manufacturers of various products that I would like to sell at my retail store. Where can I go to find a listing of the manufacturers who make this type of product?

Two online sources for finding manufacturers is the Thomas Registry and Dunn and Bradstreet's Supplier Finder.