FAQ – Free IP Protection

Q: How can I get free patent protection?

A: The lowest level of patent protection is not automatic and costs a little money, time, and planning. It involves two separate processes that are different and each are important for different reasons.

First, every inventor should have an “inventors notebook” where they keep a special record of their inventions. The notebook should be permanently bound (NOT loose-leaf) and should be where you write down all of your ideas. You should date all of your writings and have each page witnessed by two witnesses. You can buy inventors notebooks online for $15- $20 and generally they will include instructions for how to properly fill out the notebook. Veteran inventors who have used these notebooks before can just use cheap lab books.

Second, every inventor should keep their inventions secret as much as possible until they have decided how to keep the idea protected. You should have simple confidentiality agreements with anybody you discuss the idea with who is not an attorney or otherwise obligated to keep what you tell them secret. If you must put details of your invention on a website, be sure to password protect the site and only give the password to people that have agreed to keep it confidential. For some inventions, keeping it secret indefinitely is the right choice. Those are often called “Trade Secrets.” Warning: Do not use “Patent Pending” on your product/service unless you actually have a patent pending with the US Patent Office that covers your product/service or you risk being sued.

Q: What do you mean by the “lowest level” of protection?

A: Getting the lowest level of protection is definitely better than no protection at all. Since every company has limited resources, every company should be applying the lowest level of protection to some of its property all the time. For those assets that are critical to the success of the company, higher levels of protection should be planned. Often the lowest level of protection is much more difficult and/or expensive to enforce than the higher levels of protection. Higher levels of protection are an investment in the future of your company and should be done thoughtfully. However, free protection should be something that you do automatically.

Q: How can I get free copyright protection?

A: The lowest level of copyright protection is automatic and completely free as soon as you have a recording of your creative work. This can be a written book, a web page, an audio recording of you playing an instrument, or a video you make to post on the web. To strengthen this free protection you should put a copyright notice on anything that you create that you don’t want other people copying. The copyright notice can have the following format:

©[space]First Year of Publication[space]Owner

Example:

© 2010 Webb IP Law Group

The © symbol can also be replaced with “Copr.” or with (c). The date can be a date range or list if you have published multiple times. For example, some websites are updated over a period of years. In that case the date would cover a range of the years where there were updates. Examples:

© 2006 – 2010 Webb IP Law Group

Copr. 2004, 2007 Webb IP Law Group

You can use the © mark even if you have not applied for federal registration of your copyright.

Q: How can I get free trademark protection?

A: The lowest level of trademark protection is automatic and completely free as soon as you use your brand in commerce. This can be a logo, or a tag line, or a special design, or a name of a company or product. To strengthen this free protection you should put a trademark notice on any brand you use and every place you use the brand. The trademark notice is a “TM” next to the brand, usually to the bottom right or top right of the brand.

Example:

Webb IP Law Group TM

Warning: Do not use the ® mark unless you actually have a federal registration or you risk being sued.

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