The Maryland Entrepreneur's Guide/IP Protection
INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY PROTECTION
The following are key intellectual property protections.
A trademark is a distinctive sign or indicator used to identify for consumers the unique source from which a product or service that is used in commerce originates. In other words, it is a symbol that distinguishes one business' products or services from those of another business. A trademark is typically a name, word, phrase, logo, symbol, design, image, or a combination of these elements. Non-conventional trademarks involve color, smell, or sound.
In print, a trademark may be designated by the "TM" superscript if not registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ("USPTO") or with the letter "R" surrounded by a circle superscript if registered with the USPTO. Registration of a trademark with the USPTO is optional, but it provides the trademark owner greater rights of protection (remedies) against unauthorized users than would otherwise be available. Trademarks that are not registered with the USPTO are referred to as "common law trademarks" and are likely to receive only regional protection absent proof of regular and continuous use on a national scale.
Registration of a trademark with the State of Maryland is optional and is administered by the Office of Secretary of State. For more information, visit http://www.sos.state.md.us/registrations/trademarks/TrademarkFAQ.aspx#benefits.
For more information about registering trademarks with the USPTO can be found at http://www.uspto.gov/.
A Copyright is the legal right of the creator of an original work (e.g., a song, written content, picture, or a movie) to exclusively reproduce, publish, sell, and distribute the work. In other words, it gives the copyright holder the right to be credited as the author of the work and to determine who may adapt the work to other forms, perform the work, and financially benefit from the work, among other related rights.
A copyright exists from the moment a work is created; consequently, registration is optional. In the U.S., registration of copyrights are filed with the United States Copyright Office, an arm of the Library of Congress. Like a trademark, registration of a copyright provides stronger protection against unauthorized use. There is no process for registering copyrights in the State of Maryland.
More information is available through the U.S. Copyright Office's webpage at http://www.copyright.gov/.
A patent is the right to, among other things, exclude others from making, using, selling, offering for sale, or exporting components to assemble outside the U.S. a particular invention. A patent also provides the right to block imports of a patented product or a product made using a patented process. Under current U.S. law, the term of a patent is 20 years from the earliest claim filing date. For applications filed before June 8, 1995, the term is either 17 years from the issue date or 20 years from the earliest claimed domestic priority date, whichever is longer. Patent registration is administered by the USPTO and is lengthy, expensive, and a public process. Under a recent amendment, patents are now awarded to the first inventor to file an application with the patent office, and not to the first inventor. There is no process for registering patents in the State of Maryland.
More information about the patent application and registration process is available at http://www.uspto.gov/.
A trade secret is a formula, practice, process, design, instrument, pattern, or compilation of information which is not publicly known or reasonably ascertainable by which a business can obtain an economic advantage over competitors or customers. In a sense, a trade secret is an invention that is not patented.
Trade secrets are generally unlimited in duration and protected through statutory law and contracts counched in terms of confidentiality, limited disclosure, limited license, and non-competition. In the State of Maryland, unauthorized use of a trade secret can be treated as a crime and prosecuted by the Attorney General. Trade secrets are not registered with any federal or state agency.