How Small Businesses Can Protect Ideas: Trademarks, Servicemarks, Patents, and Copyrights

March 30, 2012 at 4:51 pm 3 comments

The scenario

Patrica had just landed the largest account of her life with a multi-billion dollar corporation. She’d been waiting for this a long time. She “repped” (or, represented) the lines of several manufactuers and sold them to companies who might want to use them at events and conventions. Right as she was getting ready to process the order, she got a call from the client.

Client: “We can’t process one of the five products.”

Patricia: “What happened? Is something wrong?”

Client: “We just got a letter from someone saying they have a patent on one of the items, and that if we buy if from one of your manufacturers, it is a patent violation.”

Patricia was furious. In her industry, it was not standard industry practice to contact clients directly. Business was always done through representatives. Thus, she should have been contacted, not the client directly. She viewed the move as underhanded.

Mid-point Discussion 

What do you think happened? Do you think the client went with the company that held the patent? Or stayed with Patricia? Discuss.

See Answer below

A: While the client did have Patricia obtain pricing from the company with the patent, ultimately, the client was not comfortable working with that company.  Even though the company held the patent,  the client doubted the ethics of the patent-holder that would go against industry practice and contact them directly instead of working through Patricia.

Protect your invention, but also protect your reputation.

A patent is one form of protecting your ideas. Here is the full list of legal protections afforded by our government, as defined by the US Patent and Trademark Office:


  • Offers protection to an invention or an improvement upon an invention.
  • Time period:  As of 2005, utility and plant patents last 20 years from the date filed; Design patents last 15 days from the date filed.
  • How to obtain: File with US Patent and Trademark Office.
  • More on Patents

Trademark / Service mark:

  • A word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. (Servicemark is the same as a trademark, except that it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than a product.)
  • Time period:  The registration is valid as long maintenance documents are filed (i.e., “Declaration of Use under Section 8” between the fifth and sixth year following registration + a combined “Declaration of Use and Application for Renewal under Sections 8 and 9” between the ninth and tenth year after registration, and every 10 years thereafter.)
  • How to obtain: File with US Patent and Trademark Office.
  • More on Trademarks and Servicemarks.


  • Protects works of authorship, such as writings, music, and works of art that have been tangibly expressed.
  • Time period: As a general rule, for works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years.
  • How to obtain: The way in which copyright protection is secured is frequently misunderstood. No publication or registration or other action in the Copyright Office is required to secure copyright. (See following Note.) There are, however, certain definite advantages to registration. See “Copyright Registration.”
  • More on Copyrights.

 Discussion Questions

1.      Patricia and the Patent. Do you agree with Patricia and her client, the patent holder, or have a different opinion? Discuss.

2.   With the prevalence of social media, do you think these issues will arise more, or less frequently? Read this USA Today article and discuss.

Extra: Share any stories you know of Trademark/Servicemark, Patent, or Copyright situations.

Want something to protect? See the creativity and ideas module – Module 2 – in the Young Entrepreneur Foundation’sEntrepreneur in the Classroom free curriculum. Recently updated and live now!

More information

Know a Young Entrepreneur? Nominate them here.

The NFIB Young Entrepreneur Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization promoting the importance of small business and free enterprise to the nation’s youth. More information is available at The Foundation is associated with the National Federation of Independent Business; NFIB is the nation’s leading small business association, with offices in Washington, D.C. and all 50 state capitals.

Entrepreneur In The Classroom. The NFIB Young Entrepreneur Foundation Entrepreneur-in-the-Classroom (EITC) supplemental curriculum exposes students to entrepreneurship and the necessary steps to take an idea and turn it into a business. The free curriculum can be integrated into classes teaching a variety of subjects including music, art, fashion, business and many more. You must beregistered to view the full Entrepreneur-in-the-Classroom curriculum.

Related links:

Follow NFIB Young Entrepreneur Foundation on Twitter

Follow NFIB on Twitter

Follow blog author Kathy Korman Frey on Twitter


Entry filed under: Business exercises, Entrepreneur, Free, Teachers, Teaching tools, Young Entrepreneur. Tags: , , , , .

Meeting New Business Partners is Just Like Asking Your Crush on a Date – Intimidating But Worth It! Best of Young Entrepreneur Foundation Blog – Part 1

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kathy Korman Frey (@ChiefHotMomma)  |  September 26, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    Here is a great piece of information emailed to me:

    Top 3 Trademark Mistakes

    1. I own the domain name, so I own the trademark.

    Registering your brand’s domain name (.com,.biz,.info) does not mean that you have acquired or own any trademark rights. Trademark rights arise from actual use, therefore, the mere registration of a domain name, does not secure trademark rights. Additionally, it is important to register your mark with the USPTO. In fact, owners of federally-registered trademarks, may be able to acquire their domain names from others in certain circumstances.

    2. I incorporated the business name with the state, so I own the trademark.

    Merely registering the business name as a coporation, LLC or any other entity with the state does not mean you have acquired or own any trademark rights in the mark. Trademark rights arise from use therefore, the mere incorporation of a business, without use, does not suffice to secure trademark rights.

    3. My trademark covers all goods and services.

    Trademark registration and protection is divided into classes of goods and services. Owning a trademark registration in one class of goods or services does not necessarily mean you can enforce it against someone using it in another class of goods or services. Another’s use of the mark may infringe if it would be likely to cause confusion.

    When applying for a trademark to protect your company’s brand an important consideration is the depiction of your mark on the trademark application. The two possible mark formats are the standard character format which includes the word(s) alone or the stylized or design format.

    For more information visit

  • […] Are you a writer, an engineer? Do you make things with your hands? Are you a laborer? Teach your child about a job well done. Below is a sample cover from a mini Sci Fi novel by a nine year-old as a writing project. As a follow-up, he wanted to know if he could copy and sell his work, and was directed to this NFIB YEF post on trademarks, copyrights, and patents. […]

  • 3. Gwendolyn  |  March 23, 2013 at 12:41 am

    A colleague referred me to this site. Thanks for the details.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

Enter your email address

Join 22,822 other followers


Blog Stats

  • 128,018 hits

%d bloggers like this: