Copyright, trademarks, and patents, oh my!

You’ve started your own practice – congratulations! You have a logo, a practice name, new stationery and business cards, Facebook and Yelp pages, and a beautiful new brochure all about what you can offer patients to leave around town. You’ve even invented a widget! You are ready to bring in new business! Or are you? Are your protecting your business with an appropriate copyright, patent, or trademark? Not sure if you need one? If this describes you, keep reading.

What is a copyright?

A copyright is defined as the “the exclusive legal right, given to an originator or an assignee to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material, and to authorize others to do the same.” Simply put, a copyright is a mark or notice on a work, generally artistic or literary, that notifies the public who it belongs to. For example, photographers copyright images they’ve produced and books are copyrighted by authors. The copyright serves as notice to the general public that the work, whatever its medium, belongs to the person that created it and no one can do anything with it unless the creator of it gives them consent. The United States Copyright Office has an extensive FAQ on copyright, what it protects, if registration is needed and more.

What is a trademark?

A trademark is “a symbol, word, or words legally registered or established by use as representing a company or product”. Most often, business will use a trademark to protect a brand name, their business name, or logo. In the United States, trademarks are registered with The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The USPTO has an excellent series of videos on trademarks as well a booklet on basic trademark facts. There are many regulations surrounding the registration of a trademark; your legal counsel may be able to advise you if a trademark is needed and whether a trademark attorney needs to be involved.

What is a patent?

A patent is “a government authority or license conferring a right or title for a set period, especially the sole right to exclude others from making, using, or selling an invention”. You may need a patent if you’ve invented something that you want to sell and do not want others to be able to copy and market your invention as their own. As with trademarks, applying for a patent can be a complicated process and a patent attorney may need to be involved.

Which do I need?

It depends on what you need to protect. If your logo meets the requirements for legal registration you may consider protecting it with a trademark. If the widget you invented is something you want to produce and sell, consider a patent. And if you’re authoring original works of artistic merit (which includes computer software), a copyright may be needed. Note that a copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation. For example, you couldn’t copyright the method of diagnosing a subluxation, but a copyright may protect the way you present that method such as in a brochure for the public or a video that you create to post on your website. When considering trademarks and patents, you may wish to consult your legal counsel.

More info is available for a variety of US government sources including:

The Small Business Administration

The United States Patent and Trademark Office

StopFakes.gov – Information on how to protect intellectual property

The CHP Group does not provide legal advice. Nothing in this post should be construed as legal counsel or advice. Please consult with a licensed attorney for your specific situation.