Ok, we all know that intellectual property protection is good. We also know that we should usually choose some form of that protection to ensure our creative brain children are safeguarded, but how do we know which form is most appropriate or under what circumstances we should select that form?

Knowing the basics of intellectual property will allow you to select the most appropriate form of protection. The following is a high-level breakdown of the three main areas (Copyright, Trademark, Patent) and costs associated with filing each:

Copyright – a copyright protects works of authorship, meaning the creative manner in which ideas are strategically put together. This usually involves movies, music, books, poems, paintings, etc. and it gives the holder the exclusive right to copy (or license) the piece, or to be recognized when it is used. However, not all works are copyrightable. Your work must have a certain level of originality to be copyright worthy.

You do not need to federally register a work of authorship to receive protection. Once you have placed your “work” in some tangible medium (i.e. written down, filmed, etc.) it automatically receives protection. Should you want to register it, just go to www.copyright.gov, submit the work, and pay the $35 registration fee. All works are protected for 70 years from the date of death of the last surviving author.

Trademark – a trademark is your brand representation. It’s what distinguishes your product/service from others in the marketplace and it usually takes the form of a symbol, logo, or name. Having a trademark restricts other businesses from branding their products/services in a way that will cause brand confusion between their products and yours.

It’s not necessary to register your trademark to receive protection. Using a symbol, mark, or name in commerce automatically gives you common law trademark protection. If you do want to register you can file online at www.USPTO.gov. The cost is either $275 or $325 per class. For a federally filed trademark, a declaration of continued use must be filed between the 5th and 6th year after the initial application and between the 9th and 10th year after the initial application. After the second declaration is filed, a declaration of continued use must be filed every 10 years.

Patent – a patent is a grant of exclusive rights to use an invention. This invention usually takes the form of a specific process or machine; it must be non-obvious and useful. Patents are huge in the science and technology industries. Applying for a patent is an extremely involved process and requires the assistance of an attorney. Between the patent search, attorney fees, and enforcement fees, filing a patent application could take a few years and cost upwards of $15,000 or more. Patent protection usually lasts for 20 years.