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From TM’s to Circle R’s – the Rights of Ideas

Protecting your ownership of an idea can get complicated really quick. Between all of the different terms for all of the different items and aspects, it’s no wonder that there are institutions dedicated solely to these topics. Celina has delved into these areas, and would like to share with you what we’ve found out about each. Much of this information can be found at the website for the United States Patent and Trademark Office, or the USPTO.

The Idea of Difference

There are three separate types of protection for ideas: trademarks, patents, and copyrights. A patent is protection for a new invention or idea, something like a new design for hardware in a computer or the mechanics behind a seven wheeled bicycle. If the idea is new and not too obvious for someone who works in the field of study relating to the invention, the idea may be patentable. Copyrights are legal protection for works of art – literature, movies, books, and so on can be copyrighted so that they aren’t reproduced or used to by others than the copyright holder. Similarly, trademarks protect companies who make items or provide services. These are what are going to focus on for this blog.

Trademarks

The most visible part of intellectual property (abbreviated IP) is the trademark. You might recognize this as the little TM next to names and logos - trademarks are words, slogans, designs, or a combination of those that make up your BRAND. We use this to identify who the service or goods came from. This includes company names, logos, and so on. The rights for trademarks come from their use in commerce, and are limited to geographic areas where you do business. You can register your trademark federally, which will allow you claim ownership of the trademark throughout the entire country, and gives you access to putting the federal trademark symbol – the circle R – on your mark.

Unfortunately, the heavy reliance of trademarks on their use forms the main problem behind keeping them active. A good trademark identifies a single company as the originator of the product. If it becomes too popular, though, the strength of the trademark at identifying the creator wanes and could become unable to legally function. One of the most popular examples of this is the aspirin – having once been a brand name, it is now so widely used for the simple form of acetylsalicylic acid that the Bayer Corporation has no claim over the name in the US. This is an ongoing battle, as represented in this video from the Velcro Companies.

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Rights granted by each of these separate functions are self-enforced; having a registered trademark or patented idea gives you rights when approaching other companies that you believe may be infringing on your idea. It is up to the holder of a trademark, copyright, or patent to bring action against possibly offending parties.

As a reminder, this is a blog provided by Celina; we are not legal experts. If you are looking to make any sort of official decision regarding patents or trademarks for your company, contact a legal professional and begin research at the USPTO’s website for more information.