I often hear from people who say they have a great idea and want to know how to prevent others from stealing it. My first question to them is whether they have searched online to see if someone else has already brought their idea to market. A simple search on Google can save a great deal of time and money.
If they haven't searched for their invention, then I first recommend a search. After searching, I will determine what the client needs. If they have an invention, they may need a patent for the invention itself and trademark for the name. If they are a writer, they may need to register their work with the Copyright Office. Based upon this initial review, I recommend a course of action in line with my client’s budget.
If you are interested in obtaining IP protection on a budget, however, you can do much of the preliminary searching and clearance yourself.
Want to get a patent? Perform your own simple patent search.
For instance, if you are interested in obtaining a utility patent for an invention, the first step would be to perform a simple patent search on Google Patents or freepatentsonline. The easiest way to find prior art is to think about what it is your invention does, and describe it in several simple keywords and phrases. Then take these keywords and phrases describing your invention and use them as search terms.
When researching on Google Patents and FPO there will be links to the prior art cited by each patent. By reviewing each patent and its prior art citations you can quickly and thoroughly search many references. Once you start to find the same references over and over you know that you have found the major references.
Have a name for your product? Clear the name by searching.
If you already have a name in mind, you should search the name in your favorite search engine. The next place to search is TESS; the USPTO's database of registered marks. It provides all the necessary information to determine who has registered the mark, and if the registration is active.
If you find a similar product it may not be worth pursuing federal registration, and you may be infringing the mark should you use it in commerce.
Avoid picking a name which merely describes your product.
When choosing a name avoid one which simply describes the product. Trademark protection falls along a spectrum, with generic marks (such as Aspirin) and descriptive marks on one end, and arbitrary or fanciful terms (such as Apple for computers) on the other end. Fanciful or arbitrary marks are much easier to register, and are afforded stronger protection than descriptive marks.
If you pick a mark that falls closer to the descriptive end, you must show that the mark is source-identifying of your product. This is known as secondary meaning. Showing secondary meaning can be tough, especially if you haven’t been using the mark very long.
You can avoid pursuing a pointless trademark or invention if you perform a simple search. This will help you avoid wasting money on an invention which is not patentable, or a mark which is already in use. If you would like more information about the different types of IP protection give me a call.