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Protecting Your Ideas

Community Enhancement / Entrepreneurship / Small Business Guide / Getting Started / Protecting Your Ideas

If your business idea is built around intellectual property, you may need to consider acquiring a patent or trademark. The best option is to seek legal counsel from an intellectual property attorney and most law firms in the region have attorneys who specialize in this field.

According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), a patent is a property right granted by the government of the United States of America to an inventor “to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States” for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted. A patent may be applied for only in the name(s) of the actual inventor(s). Only certain things can be patented—utility patents are provided for a new, non-obvious, and useful:

  • Process
  • Machine
  • Article of manufacture
  • Composition of matter
  • Improvement of any of the above

A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.

A service mark is the same as a trademark, except that it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than a product.

Trademarks, copyrights, and patents do not all protect the same thing. A copyright protects an original artistic or literary work; a patent protects an invention.

For more information on protecting your ideas, you may consult an intellectual property attorney. You can also visit the USPTO and U.S Copyright Office websites.

Below is a list of USPTO webpages that may be helpful as you explore how to protect your ideas.

USPTO Basic Facts Breakdown, Trademark, Patent, or Copyright? (video) https://www.uspto.gov/trademarks-getting-started/trademark-basics/trademark-patent-or-copyright

USPTO Legal Assistance and Resources https://www.uspto.gov/patents-getting-started/legal-assistance-and-resources

USPTO Texas Inventor Resources https://www.uspto.gov/learning-and-resources/inventors-entrepreneurs/texas

USPTO Patent FAQs https://www.uspto.gov/help/patent-help#type-browse-faqs

USPTO Trademark Basics https://www.uspto.gov/trademarks-getting-started/trademark-basics