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U.S Intellectual Property Law: The Basics

In the United States, brilliant ideas and ingenious technology can be protected through a system called intellectual property law. Patents allow an individual to stake a claim to their invention or idea as intellectual property, so that they can profit from it without others attempting to use it as well.

Understanding the process and limitations of the patent system is crucial to securing your idea, invention, or other intellectual property as your own. In this article, we’ll detail the entire process, and dish out tips on making your patent stick.

**Patents, Copyrights, and Trademarks **

The world of intellectual property can be broken down into 3 main groups: patents, copyrights, and trademarks. Each has its own rules and regulations, so we’ll break down each to illustrate the differences.


Copyrights may provide the most encompassing type of legal protection, but copyrights aren’t for just any kind of intellectual property. They cover “original works of authorship” that have been written down or otherwise saved in some tangible form. Basically, anything considered art that has been recorded can be copyrighted. Think movies, books, TV scripts, music, artwork and even dances where the steps have been written down or the performance recorded.

It’s important to note that copyrights don’t protect the content of a piece, rather copyrights simply protect the artistic expression such as the way a book was written. For example, if a person writes a book on cats and then copyrights it, that doesn’t prevent another person from writing their own book on cats too, so long as their own book is written differently from the copyrighted book. Only when an original work of art is copied verbatim, or copied in a substantially similar manner, might there be a copyright infringement.

Under the common law, copyrights are an automatic system, meaning the moment your work is put in a tangible form it is a copyrighted work. However, common law copyrights are difficult, if not impossible to enforce or assert, so registering your work with a federal copyright is necessary if you ever need to defend or assert your work against another party. In the U.S, copyrights are filed through the U.S Copyright Office. If your copyright is registered through them, you can craft a much stronger defense for your property than without the registration.

Copyrights, like other intellectual property protections, last a very long time. The typical length of a copyright is the span of the copyright holder’s life plus 70 years. Some copyrights can extend to 120 years before they become part of the public domain.


Trademarks are used to secure a word, device, combination of words, or symbols that are used to identify the source of a good or service. A trademark is the centerpiece of a brand that is associated with a product or service that is produced by a company. In this way, when a consumer sees a trademark, they know that the product attached to that trademark was produced by a certain company and will deliver an expected positive experience. So, as you can probably see, trademarks are really meant to protect consumers from being tricked into thinking they’re doing business with one company when they’re actually doing business with another. But, the flipside of trademarks is that they can be asserted by the company that owns them against other companies who are trying to confuse consumers. The goodwill that consumers associate with a trademark is valuable to the company that owns the trademark and a registered trademark enables its owner to protect that goodwill by preventing competitors from using the same brand or a confusingly similar brand.

In addition to helping companies and people protect their brands, as stated above trademarks make consumers confident that they are dealing with a reputable and trustworthy source. And so, trademarks can boost a product company’s ethos, which goes a long way for the success and sales of the product or company. Without the confusion of several companies or products with the same or similar names, consumers can be sure they’re getting a good product every time they buy.

Trademarks can be obtained at the state and federal level, with a federal registration being the most advantageous. A federal trademark registration provides a nationwide claim to that name or logo in connection with a product or service. It can even be leveraged to prevent imported goods from being sold that may infringe on the trademark.


Unlike copyrights which protect an artistic expression, and trademarks which protect a source identifying brand, patents protect inventions. Patents combine a technical document with a legal document in order to protect inventions. Patents have strict requirements to be accepted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and can be very complicated, especially for technology that could significantly disrupt an industry. It can take years for a patent application to work its way through the examination process and emerge as a patent.

Patents are split into three different basic types: plant patents, design patents, and utility patents.

1) Plant patents are granted to anyone who invents or discovers a new, distinct variety of plant.

2) Utility patents are granted for new and useful processes, machines, compositions of matter, and articles of manufacture. Utility patents grant their owner the exclusive right to the way an invention works.

3) Design patents are granted to new and original designs for an article of manufacture. Design patents grant their owner the exclusive right to the way something looks.

To be granted a patent, your invention must be novel and nonobvious. This means that your invention must never have been done before by somebody else and that, even if it hasn’t been done before, it must not be an obvious thing to do. For example, an application to patent a lamp with six different light bulbs wouldn’t be granted, even if nobody had ever offered a six bulb lamp, because it is obvious to simply add more bulbs if you want more bulbs in a lamp. Developing entirely new technology to produce light, however, may be granted a patent. In the US, patent applications must be filed no later than one year after public disclosure of the invention and, in most foreign countries, patent applications must be on file before any public disclosure anywhere. So, it’s always better to talk to a patent attorney before you share that great idea.

Getting a patent is just the first step to protecting your intellectual property. A patent is like a “no trespassing” sign — just because you have a patent doesn’t mean that somebody won’t trespass on your property. You have to assert your patent rights to fight off would-be infringers. Patent infringement cases can get costly very quickly, so it’s important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your case before you proceed.

**For Copyright and Trademark Assistance, Use Circle That R! **

Circle That R takes much of the hassle and fees out of the trademark and copyright processes. We guide you through to get all the documents that you need and will send it to our lawyers who specialize in intellectual property law. We ensure you have everything your application needs to succeed, and you save hundreds of dollars in fees from a traditional lawyer engagement.

If you’d like a trademark or copyright submitted, use the Circle That R submission system to have your documents reviewed and submitted by an intellectual property expert today!