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Patents, Copyrights and Trademarks-When Do I Need One?

You need a patent when you have invented or discovered something new and useful for which people are willing to pay. A patent may be obtained for any new and useful process, machine, or article of manufacture; any new, original and ornamental design for an article of manufacture or a new asexually reproduced plant. A patent is a grant by the United States to an inventor that gives the inventor the right to exclude others, for a limited time, from making, using or selling the invention in this country. When an inventor secures a patent, he or she has the opportunity to exclusively profit by the manufacture, sale or use of the invention in a protected market. The inventor may also charge others for making, using or selling the patented article through the use of a license.

You need a copyright when you have created an original work of authorship or artistic impression for which people are willing to pay. The subject matter of copyright may be a book, song, play, choreographic work, motion picture, pantomime, sculpture, architectural work, picture, photograph or computer program among other types of works. The owner of the copyright in a work of authorship has the exclusive right to permit the making of copies of the work, to prepare adapted works based on the copyrighted work, to translate the work, to distribute copies of the work to the public by sale, rental, lease, or lending and to perform or display the works publicly. While registration of a copyrighted work with the U.S. Copyright Office is not required to protect an author's rights in such work, registration is required prior to a copyright infringement lawsuit being filed in Federal Court.

You need a trademark or a service mark to identify your goods or services and to distinguish them from the goods or services provided by others. A trademark indicates to purchasers that the quality of the goods bearing the mark remains constant, and serves as a focal point for your advertising to create and maintain demand for your product. You need a federal trademark registration when you are using a brand name on goods or services which you supply or provide and want to prevent competitors from using a confusingly similar trademark. Registration of your trademark constitutes notice of your claim of ownership, it creates presumptions of your ownership, of the validity of the registration and of your exclusive right to use the mark on your goods and services. A trademark can be a word, name, symbol, slogan, design, device, logo, sound, color, domain name or any combination of these. Trademarks, like other forms of personal property can add real monetary value to a business when properly utilized and protected.

If you believe you have something that may be patented, copyrighted or trademarked, you should seek the professional advice of an attorney experienced in this area.  3/11

If you need to consult with an attorney or would like more information on patents, copyrights, and trademarks, please contact the Erie County Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service.