Intellectual Property for Creatives

What is Intellectual Property?  How and Why Should You Seek Protection for It? 

Do you have intellectual property you would like to protect? How do you file with the United States Patent and Trademark Office?  What is the difference between a copyright,  patent, and trademark?  Is registration the only way to protect your intellectual property? Raina Haque, JD, owner of Erdos Intellectual Property Law + Startup Legal, and her partner Jon C. Mayhugh, JD will explain how you can best protect your intellectual property at the March 16, 2017 Swerve meetup.  The program starts at 11:30 a.m. at the Center for Design and Innovation, located at 450 Design Avenue, Winston-Salem – lunch is included. This program is free for Swerve members and $20 for non-members. Registration is required. Visit for additional information. 

So what is trademark, patent, and copyright protection? According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), trademark protection is for identifier of a source of goods and services in commerce—all things related to a brand touch on trademark law. Patent protection is for inventions. Copyright protection is for original tangible expressions of ideas. For example, if you invent a new kind of vacuum cleaner, you would apply for a patent to protect the invention itself. You would apply to register a trademark to protect the brand name of the vacuum cleaner. And you might register a copyright for the TV commercial that you use to market the product.

Filing for Intellectual Property Protection is not straight forward. Let’s just say you developed a vacuum cleaner, the logo, and the commercial, but now you want to file for intellectual property protection, so you submit the required paperwork to the USPTO and the US Copyright office. You receive a notice stating your logo is rejected because it’s similar to another logo for someone providing a similar service. You paid thousands of dollars to develop the product, only to find out later that another company already developed and made publicly available a vacuum with similar functionality. So now that commercial you created is useless because you’re not able to use the logo, and you can’t sell the vacuum because you risk being sued or stopped as an infringer. What’s the lesson learned? “Before you invest thousands of dollars, it’s best to consult with a patent and trademark attorney. While it is possible to submit the paperwork on your own, many creatives file first, then seek an attorney when they run into trouble. It takes more time and a lot more money to fix situations, but it takes less time to file correctly the first time around,” said Raina. 


Here’s how an intellectual property attorney can help – she or he will conduct a search of the USPTO database and other relevant databases and analyze the results of the search to see if something similar to what you are filing for already exists. If there is, your patent and trademark attorney will likely make recommendations for changes you can make so you a greater probability of a successfully registered patent, trademark, and/or copyright. They can also provide guidance in product naming. “Although trademarks can last forever, they can be challenged. For example, ‘escalator’ was a trademark, but it became generic term for the apparatus.  Since this word become part of the English language, the trademark was later struck down.  The US Government will enforce trademark rights to the extent that such rights do not impair the 1st amendment freedom of speech and other policy concerns. You want to be successful enough so everyone recognizes your brand, but not so successful that people start using your trademark generically.” The trademarks most likely to be afforded protection by the law are fanciful trademarks, for example, Pepsi. “What does Pepsi mean?” It’s a source identifier for a particular soda, but there is nothing about the word (yet) that ties it to soda in the English language. If it was given a descriptive name such as ‘brown fizzy soda’, it would likely be considered too descriptive of the actual drink, and the trademark could be challenged,” said Raina. 

There are so many more things you can do to protect your intellectual property. Join us for the March meetup to learn more. Visit to register for the March program and to learn about upcoming programming and Swerve membership opportunities.

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