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Should you patent your products or services? Intellectual property law provides protections to individuals and companies who have products and processes in development. Patents provide exclusive rights within a specified jurisdiction, ensuring that competitors cannot steal or otherwise compromise the financial benefits of an innovative invention or technique.
The world of intellectual property law is complex, and as a small business owner, chances are you have many questions about how it works and whether you need it to protect your business interests.
With that in mind, here are five questions to consider if you are developing a product or a process as part of your business operations:
• Do I need to file a patent? If you are inventing a new product, or if you are refining an existing product that has entered the public domain because its intellectual property statutes have expired, it is strongly recommended that you protect yourself legally. You should also understand copyrights and trademarks; copyrights protect works of literature, art and music, while trademarks protect slogans, business and product names, symbols and devices used in the branding of a product or company.
• How long does a patent last? Designs are protected for 14 years from the date the intellectual protection was granted; utility and plant protections are good for 20 years from the date on which you filed your application and paid your fees.
• What protections does a patent provide? Intellectual property protections grant the filing entity exclusive rights to the commercial exploitation of a product or process, ensuring that it cannot be copied, used or adapted by competitors. However, in the event that a competitor unlawfully steals intellectual property, patent protection does not cover any litigation fees you may encounter.
• How do I protect my intellectual property? You need to submit an application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Once your application is approved and the necessary fees are paid, you will be granted 14 to 20 years of protection, depending on the nature of your invention.
• Do I need to hire an intellectual property lawyer? While you do not have to have your application submitted by an attorney, it is strongly recommended that you work with a lawyer in order to define the exact parameters of your exclusive ownership of the intellectual property and to ensure that all application materials are complete and comprehensive.
Intellectual property protection exists to ensure that inventors of unique products and processes receive the full financial benefits of their work under the law. You can protect products and processes throughout all stages of development, so if you have an idea in the works, it's best to act early to ensure that it cannot be stolen or unlawfully used by a competitor or other unauthorized party.
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