Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with @EvansIPLaw. Andrea H. Evans, Esq. is the founder of Evans IP Law, a Maryland-based law firm specializing patent, trademark and copyright law. Ms. Evans’ previous experience includes five years as a patent examiner and trademark examining attorney for the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) after graduating from The George Washington Law School.
SmallBizLady: What is intellectual property (IP)?
Andrea H. Evans, Esq.: Intellectual property is actually an intangible object referring to creations of the mind. There are three types of intellectual property: patents, trademarks and copyrights. Patents protect inventions. Trademarks protect brands. Copyrights protect written works.
SmallBizLady: Why is intellectual property important to entrepreneurs?
Andrea H. Evans, Esq.: IP is important to entrepreneurs because all entrepreneurs have some type of intellectual property. It’s important for an entrepreneur to be knowledgeable about IP so that they can identify it and take proactive steps to protect theirs. For example, all entrepreneurs have a valuable brand that should be trademarked. Some entrepreneurs have inventions that can be patented and most of them will have websites, blogs and/or newsletters that can be copyrighted.
SmallBizLady: Let’s talk about patents. What steps should an entrepreneur take if they have an invention they want to patent?
Andrea H. Evans, Esq.: They need to do their own due diligence. The first step should be to use free resources like www.USPTO.gov and www.google.com/patents to conduct a search to see what’s already out there. If they find their invention, it’s not novel and won’t be eligible to be patented. If they don’t find their identical invention but find related references, they can bring them to a consultation with an attorney to discuss patentability.
SmallBizLady: What types of inventions are patentable?
Andrea H. Evans, Esq.: First, the invention must be useful and solve a problem. Inventors invent out of necessity so most are useful and solve problems. The invention needs to be new or novel, as I mentioned before. It also needs to be non-obvious. Certain things that are obvious include changing the shape, size or color and they are not patentable. Seek the help of a patent attorney to help determine whether or not your invention is patentable.
SmallBizLady: How long does it take to get a patent?
Andrea H. Evans, Esq.: The entire patent process can take two to three years, beginning with the patent search which can up to two weeks. Typically, it then takes an attorney three to four weeks to draft a patent application. Once the application is actually filed, it can take up to two years to be assigned to an Examiner because of the USPTO backlog. Once examined, it’s not uncommon to be rejected two or three times. Hang in there, though! Your invention may be the next big thing your patent is well worth the wait!
SmallBizLady: Let’s talk about trademarks. What are they?
Andrea H. Evans, Esq.: Simply put, a trademark is your brand that consumers identify your product or services by. A trademark can be a word, phrase, symbol, design (or a combination of any of these) that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of another. Even sounds and scents can be trademarked. You can’t trademark a word or phrase without identifying goods and services that the trademark will be used on.
SmallBizLady: How do domain names, business name registrations and trademarks differ?
Andrea H. Evans, Esq.: A domain name is your web address (URL) – www.evansiplaw.com, for example. Owning a domain name does not give you trademark rights and trademark rights don’t give you ownership of a domain name. A business name is the name of your business often registered with the state. Owning a business name does not automatically qualify as trademark use. Be careful in choosing URL’s and business names. If they infringe on a trademark owners rights, you can be sued for trademark infringement. Remember that trademarks identify a particular source of goods or services.
SmallBizLady: How should an entrepreneur choose a trademark?
Andrea H. Evans, Esq.: When choosing a trademark, the strength and distinctiveness of the mark is important because strong marks are easier to both register and enforce. Fanciful or made-up words are strong as are arbitrary marks because they are words that have meanings unrelated to the goods or services. Suggestive marks are strong as well because they require some thought or imagination. Descriptive marks that describe features of your goods and services are weak because generic terms cannot be trademarked.
SmallBizLady: What are the benefits of federal registration?
Andrea H. Evans, Esq.: Only those with valid federal registrations are allowed to use the ® symbol. This puts others on notice that you own a federal trademark and have nationwide priority. After five years of owning a federal trademark, documents can be filed to make the mark incontestable. Federal registration also gives the trademark owner the ability to sue in federal court if it is infringed upon. Owning a federal registration often deters others from using the mark.
SmallBizLady: What do I need to do to be prepared before filing a trademark application?
Andrea H. Evans, Esq.: Before filing a trademark application you should consult with an attorney to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your mark. Also, remember to do your own research on www.USPTO.gov to see if there are other registered marks that could or would be easily confused with your own Do an internet search to see if others are using your mark on similar goods. This will help you decide if you want to pursue registration and help you to foresee any issues that may occur after the filing.
SmallBizLady: How does a trademark differ from a copyright?
Andrea H. Evans, Esq.: A copyright protects original creative works such as books, movies, songs, paintings, photographs, web content and choreography. Copyrights are registered at the Library of Congress. Copyrights last the lifetime of the author plus an additional 70 years. Trademarks, on the other hand, are a name or logo or symbol used to identify commercial goods or services and registered at the USPTO. Trademarks are unlimited but require the owner to renew the mark every 10 years.
SmallBizLady: If entrepreneurs have specific questions about intellectual property, how can they reach you?
Andrea H. Evans, Esq.: I can reached on Twitter at @EvansIPLaw. They may also feel free to reach out to me via my website, www.evansiplaw.com, or via email to email@example.com. I also recommend everyone subscribe to my newsletter in order to stay informed about IP-related news and events.
If you found this interview helpful, join us on Wednesdays 8-9 pm ET; follow @SmallBizChat on Twitter. Here’s how to participate in #SmallBizChat: http://bit.ly/S797e. For more tips on how start or grow your small business subscribe to Melinda Emerson’s blog http://www.succeedasyourownboss.com.