USPTO has many tools and programs for protecting your ideas, products, and services 


When I began my tenure as director in the spring of last year, I pledged to strongly advocate for the value of intellectual property and its protection. As we work throughout the world to strengthen the IP ecosystem through new laws, policies, practices and collaborations, I consider it an honor to also be an ambassador for IP, impressing upon those with great ideas—including our youth, women across the globe, and our military—the importance of protecting IP.

Patented inventions are in every common device and product you use every day: your smartphone, car, or even your comb. Indeed, the USPTO just granted the 1 millionth design patent for a comb created by Agustina Huckaby, an inventor and licensed cosmetologist from Fort Worth, Texas.

In fact, many products are covered by multiple patents, including for follow-on innovations that improved the product. One example I like to use is Thomas Edison, whose original light bulb that he submitted to the USPTO in the 1800s is sitting on my desk at our headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia.

When I go into classrooms and ask whether Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, the kids know! They say, “No—he just invented a better filament.”

You can also protect your product, service or company with a trademark. Some widely recognized trademarks are the Nike swoosh; the unique stitching on the back pocket of Levi’s jeans; and the name and some popular lyrics of Taylor Swift.

Trademarks can even be scents. Scent marks protect a unique smell from being copied by other similar products.

Not only are trademarks important assets, if you decide to launch a business or expand to other areas in the United States, a federal trademark that you can only get from the USPTO will protect you. You can use your trademark to stop copycat products at the borders or have online resellers remove copycat offerings. You can also use your copyright to have copycat material taken down from the internet.

Confused about what type of intellectual property you might need to protect? The USPTO now has an easy-to-use new online tool that lets you figure out what type of IP you have and whether it’s protectable by a patent, copyright, trademark, and/or trade secret.

We call it the IP Identifier. It’s a very popular tool among those visitors to our website who are new to IP, with more than 100,000 visits to the page since we launched it this year.

Just the submission of your application filing may provide some legal protection in the event someone later tries to claim your idea. And, having a “patent pending” can help you get funding!

Many applicants pursue the help and services of legal counsel. The 84 Patent and Trademark Resource Centers nationwide have lists of attorneys they can refer you to, in addition to providing free expert advice on filing and USPTO processes. And for under-resourced inventors, you may be eligible for free legal help filing an application through our Patent Pro Bono program or Law School Clinic program.

Kathi Vidal is under secretary of commerce for intellectual property and director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

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