We’re recognizing #NationalZipperDay celebrated on April 29 for this week’s #BusinessTipTuesday! We are bringing it back to the beginning when the idea of the zipper first came about… which means intellectual property! The zipper was created by Gideon Sundback and originally patented as the “separable fastener” in 1917. According to thought.com, the popular name of zipper came from the installation of Sundback’s separable fastener on a pair of boots by another business, B.F. Goodrich Company.
Now that you know a little bit of zipper history, you may wonder what to do when you have come up with a great idea, like the zipper, that should be filed as intellectual property! Say you did some online research, and it appears that no one else has come up with this great idea either. Now what is the next step? You know you are itching to get this idea started and the idea of intellectual property keeps popping up in your head. Most importantly you are wondering, do I need to hire a lawyer? Well, you are right on track with these thoughts!
When it comes to intellectual property, things can get confusing. Does this need to be registered as a patent, trademark, or copyright? Do I need a lawyer or can I do it on my own? With that being said much research must be put into furthering your idea and starting a business based on that idea.
First, you must understand the basics of intellectual property. In simple terms there are three main components into which it is broken down: patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Patents are for the ownership of inventions whether it is to make, sell, or use. Trademarks are signs that identify products or services. Copyrights secure literary and artistic works.
Now that we know what our idea is categorized as, we must take into consideration the cost when it comes to filing. Without hiring an attorney, costs for patents can extend into the thousands, trademarks in the hundreds, and copyrights up to a hundred dollars. And then when hiring an attorney the fees are obviously increased.
Patents are the timeliest and most in depth when it comes to filing; it is without a doubt the most “serious” of intellectual property filings. If you truly believe you have an idea that is worth spending the time and money to patent, an attorney should be hired to make sure the process runs smoothly and is done correctly. Not to say it cannot be done on your own, but with something like this, leaving it to an expert is best. If you do feel that filing for a patent on your own is something you can handle, by all means go ahead. Extensive research beforehand and documentation along the way is definitely necessary if you are going at it alone. In general a good starting point to figuring out if you are ready for a patent would be to start filing the provisional patent application on your own. If that first step goes well, you may realize that the process is something you can handle and have time for. Or you may realize it is better to leave it to a professional.
Trademarks lie somewhere in the middle in regards to research and application. There are plenty of forms that need to be filled out and things you need to research before going through with the trademark, yet it is not as technical as a patent. Either yourself or your attorney can file the applications. Thus, when it comes to a trademark it boils down to comfort level. This filing may be more doable on your own in comparison to a patent application; however, it may be necessary to consult with an attorney for things you do not understand, research guidance, or dealings with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Copyrights are the most simple in comparison to other intellectual property filings. They can be completed through an application online or through mail. The process is not nearly as lengthy as the other application processes. Since the process is not as complex as the others, filing for a copyright would most likely be the easiest to do on your own. However, hiring a lawyer could be helpful for questions on anything copyright related since those specializing in intellectual property are the experts.
Basically, when you ask the question, to hire a lawyer or not, you must think about yourself. The decision should come to what you, as the idea owner and potentially business owner, are most comfortable with! You must think about your ability to research, the timeline you are focused on, the amount of funds that you have, and your knowledge. As well, it is important to remember that Intellectual Property Attorneys deal with all types of filings as a regular part of their job. These professionals are the experts when it comes to “all things IP” and will help you get things done properly and timely.
Although it could be a costly venture, in which you should truly only go forth with intellectual property filings if you have the money and time, hiring a lawyer could be one of the most valuable thing you do. Remember, do not make this decision lightly, do your research, and make the decision best for you!
Danielle Guari, B.S. Entrepreneurship 2017
University of Scranton Small Business Development Center
Artwork adapted by Freepick.com