Why is it so important that an entrepreneur or small business owner takes the necessary steps to protect what they have created for the marketplace? Your invention, unique product or service or even the brand name and logo that have been designed to make a clear distinction with competitors are the heart of your business and need to be safeguarded.

Failure to safeguard your intellectual property can result in someone else infringing or violating what you have taken a great deal of time and perhaps a good amount of capital to develop. Indeed, fighting for what’s yours in the courts may incur lengthy and expensive litigation, which can seriously set you back, or worse, dash your hopes altogether for growing a successful business enterprise.

Unfortunately, “many individuals overlook the importance of protecting their creations with a patent, trademark or copyright,” says Stevan Bosses, one of the renowned experts on the subject who has spent more than 42 years litigating and counseling clients in intellectual property matters. Fortunately, Bosses is also a SCORE Westchester small business mentor who will share his vast knowledge and provide a clear and concise overview of the issue at our workshop, “Protecting Your Mind’s Creations—Patents, Trademarks, Copyrights and Unfair Competition.” 

Protecting yourself is just plain good business practice. It may sound very confusing, but after hearing Bosses’ explanations, you will clearly see why this protection is essential for your success. Bosses draws the following clear distinctions between the three major types of protection:

Patents protect inventions or discoveries. “If you have discovered a new and useful process which has not been done before, you definitely need a patent,” Bosses urges. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, a patent is an intellectual property right granted to an inventor that prevents others from making, using, or selling the invention throughout the U.S. or importing the invention into the U.S.

Trademarks protect words, phrases, symbols or designs identifying the source of the goods or services of one party that distinguishes them from others. “The swoosh in the logo of Nike is one of the most recognized brands in the world, as are the golden arches of McDonald’s and the letters IBM,” Bosses cited as trademark examples.

Copyright protects original works of authorship. “Copyright is applicable for creative undertakings that typically are not of a utilitarian nature, such as novel, painting, song and poetry,” Bosses notes. According to the Small Business Administration, the umbrella arm of SCORE Westchester, while an individual or a business does not have to register a copyright because “it applies the moment your work is created, registration is required if you ever establish a lawsuit for copyright infringement. Many also choose to register their works because they want the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration.” As an example, the contents on the SCORE Westchester website is copyrighted.

Bosses will also address a fourth form of protection called Trade Dresses. “It’s all the sign elements including color, layouts, and packaging and displays that are unique to a product or services that distinguish it from all others.” In a 1992 Supreme Court Case, the court found that a Mexican restaurant chain’s décor could be considered inherently distinctive, citing the distinctive murals, bright colored potter, neon-colored board strips and outdoor umbrellas.

Key Topics

PATENTS, TRADEMARKS AND COPYRIGHTS: What are they, do you need them, and how do you get them?