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Protect Your Ideas With Copyrights and Patents

Protect Your Ideas With Copyrights and PatentsbyTim KnoxSmall Business Q&ACopyright 2003 Can you tell m...

Protect Your Ideas With Copyrights and Patents
Tim Knox
Small Business Q&A
Copyright 2003


Q: Can you tell me the difference between a copyright and a
patent? Also is that something I should let a lawyer handle
for me?

A: A wise man once said, "The biggest difference between a
copyright and a patent is the number of lawyers it takes to do
the paperwork." There is a point to be made there, mainly that
if this wise man had paid his attorney to copyright that tidbit
of wisdom I probably would have had to pay him five bucks to
use the quote.

Copyrights, trademarks and patents are similar in that they are
designed by law to protect your rights of ownership, but that's
where the similarity ends. A copyright protects a creative
work; a trademark protects a brand or company identity; and a
patent protects an invention or process.

A copyright protects the rights of anyone who creates an
"original work of authorship." A copyright owner has the
exclusive right to reproduce the work; prepare spin-off works
based on the copyrighted work; and to sell, perform and/or
display the copyrighted work in public.

Copyright protection is afforded to eight categories of creative
works: literary works (the written word); musical works (lyrics,
music, melodies); dramatic works (plays, scripts, screenplays);
artistic works (pictorial and sculptural), sound recordings
(LPs, CDs, audio tapes); choreographic works (dance, pantomime);
audiovisual works; and architectural works (blueprints, designs,

An original work is automatically copyrighted the moment it is
put into a fixed format such as a paper copy or recording. In
other words, once you put your original story in writing or
make a recording of an original song, your copyright is
automatically secured. From that moment on your work has
copyright protection for your lifetime, plus 50 years after
your death.

Registering a work with the U.S. Copyright Office is not
required, but since it is relatively simple and inexpensive to
do so, I advise that you register a copyright for each work
you wish to protect. Also, your copyright must be registered
in order to take legal action against someone who might infringe
on the copyright in the future.

You can register a copyright without the assistance of an
attorney. Simply visit the U.S. Copyright office website at and download the appropriate form.
Complete the form and send it in with a $30 nonrefundable
filing fee. This must be done for each individual work you
wish to protect.

A patent is a form of protection granted to an inventor that
protects his invention in the United States for up to 20 years
from the date of application. Patent law states that, "whoever
invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine,
manufacture, composition of matter, or any new and useful
improvements thereof may obtain a patent." Owning a patent
gives you the legal right to stop someone else from making,
using or selling your invention (or one that's very close to
it) without your permission. However, proving that someone is
infringing on your patent is often difficult and usually
requires a trial to settle the dispute.

Since the first U.S. patent was awarded in 1790, more than five
million patents have been awarded. The patent office receives
more than 230,000 patent applications every year and I can tell
you from personal experience that a turtle on Prozac moves faster
than the patent process. Patents can take several years,
truckloads of paperwork, and considerable legal fees to obtain.
The cost of obtaining a patent can run from $500 for a simple
design patent to $50,000 and more for a complex utility patent.
However, if your company has a truly patentable idea, you would
be wise to invest the time and money required to secure your
rights. A good patent can be a valuable business asset.

While you can file a patent yourself, I strongly advise that you
use an attorney since a naively written patent application often
isn't worth the paper it's printed on. Just recently my attorney
did a patent search for me only to discover that a patent for a
similar product was already in place. However, due to the
ineffectual language of the patent applicationFree Articles, the patent was
practically impossible for the owner to enforce.

Good news for me. Not so good news for the wise man who wrote
his own patent.

Here's to your success!

Tim Knox

Source: Free Articles from


Small Business Q&A is written by veteran entrepreneur and
syndicated columnist, Tim Knox. Tim serves as the president and
CEO of three successful technology companies and is also the founder of, an
ebusiness dedicated to the success of online entrepreneurs Tim is also the Ebusiness Startup and Design Expert for, the website of the national publication
Entrepreneur Magazine.

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