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Small Business Patents, Copyrights and Trademarks

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Small Business Patents, Copyrights and Trademarks

By kmurray, Contributor and Moderator
Published: December 11, 2013 Updated: September 21, 2016

As an entrepreneur or aspiring small business owner, one of the most significant considerations that may come to mind is how to protect your work. What steps should you take to ensure that someone else couldn’t lay claim to what your product or service? Does a patent, copyright or trademark apply? Here’s some clarifying information about patents, copyrights and trademarks and how to protect your intellectual property.

The U.S. Copyright Office provides a clear distinction between these three types of protection:

  • Patents protect inventions or discoveries
  • Copyright protects original works of authorship
  • Trademarks protect words, phrases, symbols or designs identifying the source of the goods or services of one party that distinguishes them from others


According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), 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. Patents last for a limited time and come in exchange for publically disclosing the invention when the patent is granted.

There are three types of patents you can apply for based on your type of invention: utility, design and plant (yes, the green kind!).

  • Utility patents – if you invent or discover any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, composition of matter – or any new and useful improvement of these – you may be eligible for a utility patent.
  • Design patents – if you invent a new, original and ornamental design for an article of manufacture
  • Plant patents ­– if you invent or discover a distinct and new variety of plant


A copyright (©), according to the U.S. Copyright Office, protects original works of published or unpublished authorship including literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works (such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software and architecture).

Copyright doesn’t protect facts, ideas, systems or methods of operation, but it may protect the way these things are expressed.

While you don’t 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.


A trademark (TM) is a word, phrase, symbol or design that identifies the source of the goods of one party and distinguishes them from others. You might have also heard of a service mark (SM), which is essentially the same as a trademark, but it denotes the source of a service rather than goods.

You aren’t required to register your mark to establish claim over it – you’ll be able to use “TM” and “SM” to let others know of your ownership. The registered mark (®) comes into play if you’ve filed an application with the USPTO and it’s been officially registered.

Here’s some additional information about protecting your trademark.


Additional Resources

About the Author:

Katie Murray

Contributor and Moderator

I am an author and moderator for the the Community. I'll share useful information for your entrepreneurial endeavors and help point you in the right direction to find other resources for your small business needs. Thanks for joining our online community here at!


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Blog post articles I authored have been stolen (and slightly re-written to appear original) by large and well-known websites and I don't know what to do about it. Is there anything a writer can do to better protect his or her work?
If your idea is patented, no one can still it from you but if you mean people that you send your invention descriptions and model to.... that is different story,
Is there anybody that know the steps to patent an idea without the help of lawyers,
Great tips and information, I wish to see more directions to how to patent an idea yourself,
I currently have a website but have not registered copyrights for the contents of the website and have another company take the entire contents of my website. Now I want to sue them, then how?
Exactly how to even report such thievery is a mystery. I found a few websites that might help, but short of hiring an attorney I think it might be a lost cause.
As long as intellectual property is the lifeblood of this company, we have to go protect it.As an entrepreneur or aspiring small business owner,patents, copyrights and trademarks are all good things to know.
Could not agree more with that. Also what you bring to your business is very important. Nobody can take that away from you. Protect yourself as you go but make sure you learn from your mistakes. Cuz they will be made on some level. But they don't have to bring your business to a halt.
What about Patent Trolls? How does one compete with these big companies if they decide to steal our patented information? The one with the most money wins?


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