Common Questions


What is a patent?


A patent empowers the patentee (the owner of the patent) to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the patented invention within the U.S. or importing it into the U.S.  There are several different kinds of patents: utility, design, and plant.  Utility patents are the most common form of patents.  Design patents protect the ornamental appearance of an article of manufacture.  A plant patent covers a distinct and new variety of plant.


A utility patent can cover any one of several different categories of invention. Processes can be patented, including chemical, mechanical, electrical, software, and manufacturing processes. Machines and mechanisms with moving parts, such as a motor, can be the subject of a utility patent. Articles of manufacture can also be protected by a utility patent. Finally, compositions of matter such as chemical compounds can be covered by a utility patent.


In order to be patented, an invention must be novel and non-obvious. An invention is “novel” if it was not previously known by others. An invention is not novel if it was previously described in a printed publication or if it was previously in public use in the U.S. An invention may qualify as novel and yet still be denied a patent if the invention is deemed “obvious.” The assessment of an invention for obviousness or non-obviousness is extremely complex. Generally, the invention must be something more significant than a minor improvement over existing technology.

What is a trademark?


A trademark is a word or words, a logo or symbol, a specialized form of packaging or store design, or a combination of these things. The trademark is used by a manufacturer or a merchant to identify its goods or services and distinguish them from those of other manufacturers or merchants. Trademarks include brand names that identify goods. Rolls-Royce for automobiles is one example. Trade dress is a category of trademarks in which the distinguishing features can be graphics, color or the shape of packaging. The Coca-Cola Bottle for a soft drink is an example of trade dress. A service mark is another form of trademark and identifies services. McDonald’s is a service mark for restaurant services. Certification marks identify goods or services adhering to particular standards or criteria. Woolmark is a certification mark for apparel made of 100% wool. Collective marks identify goods, services or members of an organization. The International Game Fish Association is a collective mark for a game fishing organization.


Trademark protection can last longer than the protection provided by a patent or a copyright. If the mark continues to be used, it can provide protection indefinitely.


When choosing a trademark, it is recommended that you choose a mark that is arbitrary or unrelated to the goods or services that will be sold under the market. For example, do not choose “Great Windows” for windows. Marks that are descriptive or generic, such as the example, will be the subject of an expensive battle at the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. A trademark examining attorney at the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office would probably not approve the example and an appeal of such a decision would probably not be successful. Concededly, a trademark that is arbitrary takes longer to resonate with customers.


What is a copyright?


A copyright protects forms of artistic expression from being copied. Categories of copyrightable works include literary, musical, dramatic, choreographic, pictorial, graphic, architectural, and sculptural works. Motion pictures, sound recordings, and computer programs are specific examples of works that can be protected by a copyright.


A copyright only protects a particular expression of an idea, not the idea itself. For example, the Harry Potter books are copyrightable but the general idea of a story about a boy wizard cannot be exclusively owned through a copyright.

What is a trade secret?


A trade secret is information that is secret and commercially valuable. The information can be a formula, a process, blueprints, a customer list, customer information, pricing, purchasing costs, suppliers, marketing plans, business plans, manufacturing costs, lab or shop notebooks, prototype parts, and negative know-how. A business can use the trade secret to obtain an economic advantage over its competitors.


A trade secret will not be found in a patent since patents are published and therefore not secret.