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Intellectual Property Basics


Intellectual property (“IP”) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce.

Protection of your IP is how you secure intangible assets and start to harness the value of your creative currency. Our government offers rights to the people who create and express themselves in unique ways by allowing individuals and businesses to protect their original works.

IP is your creative currency. It includes your business name, slogan, the unique color you created to distinguish your business, the images you capture or create, a process, and much more.


Trademark Basics

A trademark is a source identifier. It communicates to the public the source of the goods and services provided. A trademark can be words, phrases, symbols, designs or any unique combination that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods and services.

Commonly used symbols include TM, SM, and ®. However they are not all equal and failure to understand trademark symbols may lead to legal trouble. Note, simply using a symbol does not mean your trademark is fully protected in the United States or in other countries.

Trademark Symbols

Registered Trademarks

® indicates a registered trademark. The ® symbol should be used when your trademark is registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Using the ® symbol with an unregistered trademark may lead to legal troubles.

Unregistered Trademarks

The TM symbol is used to indicate your claim of an unregistered trademark. It can be used while a trademark registration application is pending and/or to inform the public of your claim of a trademark.

Tms and tms logos on a white background.
Service Trademarks

The SM symbol is used for services. SM = Service Mark. However, it can be used for both registered and unregistered service marks.

What's Trademarkable?

1. Brand Name

A business name is the most important trademark. It provides your business with the exclusive use of the business name. Meaning no other company within the same industry can use the exact or similar business name.

2. Logo

Protection of a business logo is also important to prevent the exact or similar use of a logo within the same industry.

3. Slogan

Slogans are also source identifiers. When you hear “Just Do it” what is the first thing that comes to mind? Nike! If your business has a slogan and you want to prevent other business in the same industry from using the slogan, trademark it!

4. Colors, Font, Product Names

Colors (called trade dress) are trademarkable. Think UPS. Hove you ever seen another delivery service use the color brown? No! Because UPS has a trademark for the color. Fonts, product names are all trademarkable.

*List includes common trademark categories and is not a complete list.

Trademarks - Beyond the Basics

Common Law Trademark

A trademark attaches the moment a source identifier is used in interstate commerce. You do NOT need to file any documents with the government to obtain a trademark. It exist the moment use begins. However, trademark registration is HIGHLY recommended.

Benefits of Trademark Registration


Registration with the USPTO puts the public on “constructive notice” of your ownership. Constructive notice is valuable because if someone else uses your exact or similar mark and you take them to court, you won’t have to prove that the infringer had actual notice the mark was yours before the infringement.

Cease and Desist Letter with Teeth

A mere cease and desist letter which references registration of your mark can be a powerful incentive to stop the offender from using your mark. This means your letter will have a better chance of stopping the confusing use and limit the chance of legal action.

Protection of Your Trademark

To obtain trademark registration, you must prove your trademark is distinctive. To retain registration your trademark must remain distinctive. Registration provides for some monitoring of your trademark by the USPTO when new trademarks are filed. Furthermore, registration may also help you prevent others from using an Internet domain name that could be confused with yours.


Copyright Basics

A copyright gives the creator of an original work exclusive rights to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic or musical material and provides the creator with the authorization to determine if it may be used by others (licensing).

For a protected work, the work needs to be original to the author and fixed in a tangible form of expression (see next page). It doesn’t have to be a totally new concept; however, it must have some form of original creativity.

What is Protected?

  • Books
  • eBooks
  • Online Courses
  • Newspaper Articles
  • Blog Post
  • Written Speeches
  • Website Content
  • Social Media Post and Captions
  • Pictorial Graphic
  • Photographs
  • Paintings
  • Audiovisual Works
  • Sound Recordings
  • Podcast Episodes

Copyright - Beyond the Basics

No Filing Required

A copyright attaches the moment an original work of authorship is fixed in a tangible form of expression. You do NOT need to file any documents with the government to obtain a copyright. It exists the moment your original work is fixed. A work is considered fixed when it is stored on some medium in which it can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated.

Benefits of Copyright Registration

There are several benefits of copyright registration. Perhaps the most important benefit is the ability to bring an infringement lawsuit.  Even though a copyright holder has rights in a work, those rights, with limited exception, cannot be enforced through the courts unless the work is registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.  Without registration, a copyright holder cannot bring a lawsuit for copyright infringement.

Additional Information

Cost of Registration

Length of Registration

Copyright Notice


$45 (starts at)

Life of the author plus 70 years

Puts the public on notice of claim to copyright. See example on coverpage.


Patent Basics

A patent is a right granted to an inventor by the federal government that permits the inventor to exclude others from making, selling or using the invention for a period of time. The patent system is designed to encourage inventions that are unique and useful to society. Congress was given the power to grant patents in the Constitution, and federal statutes and rules govern patents.

Types of Patents

1. Utility Patents: The most common type of patent, are granted to new machines, chemicals, and processes.

2. Design Patents: Granted to protect the unique appearance or design of manufactured objects, such as the surface ornamentation or overall design of the object.

3. Plant Patents: Granted for the invention and asexual reproduction of new and distinct plant varieties, including hybrids.

What is Patentable?

To qualify for a patent, it must be both “novel” and “non-obvious.”

  • Novel – different from other similar inventions in one or more of its parts.
  • Non-obvious – if someone who is skilled in the field of the invention would consider the invention an unexpected or surprising development.

Naturally occurring substances and laws of nature, even if they are newly discovered, cannot be patented. A patent cannot be obtained for a mere idea or suggestion. The inventor must have figured out the concrete means of implementing his or her ideas in order to get a patent.

Utility Patents – Usefulness

An inventor applying for a utility patent must prove that the invention is useful. The invention must have some beneficial use and must be operable. A useful invention may qualify for a utility patent only if it falls into one of five categories: a process, a machine, a manufacture, a composition of matter, or an improvement of one of these.

Patent Examples
  • Computer Software and Hardware
  • Chemical Formulas
  • Drugs
  • Medical Devices
  • Furniture Design
  • Jewelry
  • Manufacturing Equipment
  • Genetically Engineered bacteria and plants


Trade secrets protect information that makes a business unique. A trade secret is (1) information that has either actual or potential independent economic value by virtue of not being generally known, (2) has value to others who cannot legitimately obtain the information, and (3) is subject to reasonable efforts to maintain its secrecy.

What Can Serve as a Trade Secret?

A trade secret can be almost anything from chemical formulas or food recipes, product designs, customer and contact lists, pricing schedules, manufacturing techniques, and marketing strategies, and serum formulations, just as a few examples.

Business Size

Trade secrets are important to all businesses no matter the size. Small, medium and large companies can all benefit from trade secrets.

Trade secrets can play a big role in a business’ financial health and competitiveness and provide a competitive edge.

Trade secret checklist.
How to Gain Trade Secret Protection

It is the business’ responsibility to identify and secure their own trade secrets!

  • Take steps to keep your secret a secret
  • Limit what employees have access to the secret information
  • Have vendors and services provides sign a non disclosure agreement (NDA) prior to providing any secret information.
  • Have employees who require knowledge of the secret to sign an NDA.



Used to protect source identifiers. Trademarks can be your business name, logo, slogan, color and more.


Gives the creator of an original work exclusive rights to print, publish, perform, film or record literary, artistic or musical material. Legal remedies to stop content theft is significantly limited without a registered copyright.


A patent is a right granted to an inventor by the federal government that permits the inventor to exclude others from making, selling or using the invention for a period of time.


Trade secrets protect information that makes a business unique. It is the business’ responsibility to protect its trade secret and there must be an effort by the business to keep its trade secret secret.


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