A U.S. patent gives one the right to exclude others from making, using, offering to sell, or selling the patented invention in the United States, or importing the patented invention into the United States, for a limited amount of time.
A trademark is a word, name, phrase, design, smell, or sound used to distinguish one’s goods or services from those of one’s competitors.
A copyright protects architectural, artistic, musical, and literary works, including computer software, against copying.
A trade secret is information that derives independent economic value from not being generally known to and not being readily ascertainable by proper means by other persons who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use, and is the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain its secrecy.
Our website contains general information about patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, and unfair competition, and is intended to make the reader aware of issues in intellectual property law. Because there are exceptions to many, if not all, of the rules mentioned in this paper, and because laws and rules change frequently, the reader should discuss his/her/their particular situation with a patent attorney before making any decision regarding his intellectual property rights and responsibilities.
FAQs – Frequently Asked Questions
The following answers cover most situations – there are exceptions and nuances to many laws and rules. Please contact us if you would like to discuss your situation.
Many of the questions below are from a television program, “John Redmann, Power of Attorney,” in which Seth Nehrbass, Patent Attorney, was interviewed by John Redmann, an attorney in New Orleans. Some video clips from that program are linked below.
Q What is the difference between patents, trademarks, and copyrights?
A Patents protect inventions for a limited time, copyrights protect works of art and music, for example, for a longer time, and trademarks include words or symbols that function as brand identifiers.
Please see this 9-minute video for more information: What are patents, copyrights, and trademarks?
Q Can I use a photo I find on the internet on my webpage or in a brochure?
A No – it is copyright infringement to use a photo that you do not have permission to use. See this 1-minute video for more:
Q Is there a deadline to file a patent application?
A Yes, one year to file in the US after the first commercialization or non-confidential disclosure. Most other countries require a patent application be filed before there is any non-confidential disclosure.
Q Is there a deadline to file a trademark application?
A No, but there are advantages to filing early.
Q What is the largest patent law firm in Louisiana?
A If you measure by the number of US patents obtained for its clients, it is Garvey, Smith & Nehrbass, Patent Attorneys, L.L.C. They have obtained over 1400 US patents for their clients since 1 July 1998, in addition to the hundreds of US patents obtained by its founding partners (Charles C. Garvey, Jr., Gregory C. Smith, and Seth M. Nehrbass) before they founded Garvey, Smith & Nehrbass, Patent Attorneys, L.L.C.
A If you measure by total number of patent attorneys, it is Garvey, Smith & Nehrbass, Patent Attorneys, L.L.C. with 7 patent attorneys, including 3 women, 1 US veteran, and 3 patent attorneys who each have more than 40 years of patent experience.
Q Should I file a patent application on my invention?
A If the benefits of being patent pending on your invention, or getting a patent on your invention outweigh the costs, then yes.
Q When do the benefits of being patent pending on an invention outweigh the costs?
A The benefits of being patent pending on an invention often outweigh the costs when a business is selling an invention, and being patent pending reduces the chance that competitors will copy the invention.
Q When do the benefits of getting a patent on an invention outweigh the costs (and other potential downsides)?
A The benefits of getting a patent on an invention often outweigh the costs (and warrant giving up possible trade secret protection) when a business is selling an invention, and getting a patent reduces the chance that competitors will copy the invention and allows the patent owner to sue competitors who copy the invention.
Q Why should I not simply keep my invention a trade secret, rather than getting a patent on it?
A If your invention can easily be reverse-engineered, it will not be possible to keep it a trade secret once others learn about it. Also, even if you are able to keep the invention a trade secret, if someone else independently invents it, they could patent it, then stop you from continuing to make, use, or sell your invention.
Q Should I hire a patent attorney to help me file a patent application?
A If your invention has potential to make money, it is best to hire a patent attorney. Filing a well written patent application, and getting broad patent protection on your invention, are difficult and best handled by experienced patent attorneys. Our patent attorneys have over 160 years of combined patent experience and have obtained over 1400 US patents for our clients. We have also helped our clients get hundreds of international patents and foreign patents.
Q What is an IP inventory and why should a business complete one?
A An IP (intellectual property) inventory, when properly prepared, lists intellectual property belonging to a business and potential intellectual property issues relating to the business. It can be a good first step toward protecting intellectual property of a business and helping the business avoid costly intellectual property issues. Failure to have a completed IP inventory can result in loss of intellectual property. For more information, please see the following 20-minute video: Typical IP Blunders
Q What should I do if I plan to expand my US business to do business in other countries?
A You should consult with us about patent, trademark, and copyright issues in other countries. While there have been attempts to harmonize laws, there are differences in laws that need to be taken into account. We have helped hundreds of companies protect their intellectual property in other countries. For more information, please see the following 5-minute video: IP Issues when Expanding Internationally
Q What should a business outside of the US do when seeking to expand into the US?
A Ideally, such a business would consult with us prior to beginning to do business in the US so that potential patent, trademark, and copyright issues can be discussed and addressed. We have helped hundreds of companies in other countries protect their intellectual property in the United States. For more information, please see the following 5-minute video: IP Issues when Expanding into the US
Q Is there some way that I can search online to see whether my invention might be patentable or my trademark might conflict with one owned by someone else?
A Yes. There are many ways to conduct patent and trademark searching online. Some businesses may choose to do this if they have a lot of inventions to consider patenting or a lot of possible trademarks to consider adopting. After conducting searches on your own, it would be best to discuss the results with us. We can help you decide how to proceed. For more information, please see the following 2-minute video:
and for even more information, the following 9-minute video: Intellectual Property Overview and Searching
Q I know that my business has intellectual property, as all businesses do. How do I know what are the differences between a patent, a trademark, a copyright, and a trade secret, and where can I see examples?
A Patents protect inventions for a limited time (usually about 20 years), copyrights protect works of art and music, for example, for a longer time (usually lifetime of the author/artist plus 70 years), and trademarks include words or symbols that function as brand identifiers (and these can last indefinitely as long as they are used and properly protected). For more information, please see the following 11-minute video which includes examples of the various types of intellectual property: Intellectual Property Overview and Examples
Q Am I allowed to use software for my home computer that I bought for my work computer?
A Possibly. You need to read the license that accompanies the software. For more information, please see the following 1-minute video:
Q Do I need a sports team’s permission to print their name on a t-shirt?
A Typically, yes. For more information, please see the following 1-minute video:
Q Do I need to copyright a magazine I am publishing?
A No, but there are advantages to doing so. For more information, please see the following 1-minute video:
Q Is it legal to copy a DVD that I own for my personal use?
A Possibly, and it generally depends on the circumstances. For more information, please see the following 1-minute video:
Q What mistakes do people frequently make when applying for patents on their own?
A They wait too long to file; they don’t disclose enough information; they do not properly disclose the invention; they do not properly claim the invention, so their patent if it issues may not be useful to stop competitors. For more information, please see the following 1-minute video:
Q Can I get a copyright, trademark, or patent on my own, without using an attorney?
A Generally, it is best to hire an attorney to help with all of these. However, copyright applications can be often be filed without an attorney with little risk of loss, and trademark applications can be filed without an attorney, but the risk of loss is greater. However, we would never recommend that an inventor try to get a patent without an experienced patent attorney unless the inventor simply wishes to have a patent to put on a wall, and does not intend to commercialize the invention. For more information, please see the following 3-minute video:
The following 9-minute video has even more information: