Protecting Your Idea with a Patent, Copyright, Trademark, or an LLC — What’s the Best Choice for You?
By Bee Pettner
This post is one of three in our series How to Develop an Idea for a Business by teen social entrepreneur Isabella “Bee” Pettner. To learn more about Bee’s business journey, see part I and part II.
Previously I blogged about how, through a crazy, long process of research and reflection, I decided that I wanted to focus on stopping the spread of sickness. (See “How to Develop an Idea For a Business Part II.”) Whether that be through handwashing or purifying water, this is what I am passionate about. Realizing my goal really changed my plan of action. Before this understanding, I was planning on following through with patenting my invention and then distributing it on the market. But after doing research and sitting down with a few experts in the field, I grew to understand the difference between patents, copyrights, trademarks, and starting an LLC, or limited liability company.
By looking at what I wanted to do, I saw that it would be much more beneficial to start an LLC and, through that, it was much easier to streamline a business plan.
It is immensely beneficial to understand these key differences so that you can have the best chance at being successful. I’m going to share my understanding of this topic from a compilation of my own research and conversations with numerous entrepreneurs. So let’s get at it!
Patents are for specific, new, and physical inventions—whether it be how something works or looks. This is originally why I thought that I would need a patent—since it was a physical item that I coded and would implement into faucets. If you think a patent is right for you, you must first file a patent application. The patent holder will be whoever first files an application and is granted a patent by the United State Patent and Trademark Office, whether or not she or he actually is the first to invent the item. The nice thing is that if you need time to actually finish making your invention, you can file what is called a provisional application, which is essentially a placeholder. Patents are great for things such as new programs or software, a new design, and anything that is physically invented. This is why I was originally going to file a patent.
Copyrights, on the other hand, help protect the creative expression of an idea. This includes a piece of art, music, or a novel, for example. Any artistic creation is what a copyright helps protect. What I have found is that even a small doodle on the corner of your notes from a meeting are, in some form, copyrighted. By simply making an object, you own it; however, in order for it to be enforced and protected, it must be filed with the federal government. Otherwise, someone else could easily steal your work. This is the perfect way to go if you are planning to change the world through a piece of writing or photography.
Trademarks deal with business and are represented by the little ® or ™ that you see on any brand, store, or product. Obtaining a trademark can do a couple of things for you. Most importantly it protects you all across the nation from anyone who would try to steal your product. A trademark guarantees protection, but it also ensures that other companies in your business category don’t resemble yours. A trademark would prevent anyone from potentially stealing a business with a similar name or logo. This is perfect to sell products, manufacture a good, or create a brand.
I like to think of patents as the inventions, copyrights as the art, and trademarks as the business.
These are all super helpful means of protecting an invention and may be perfect for many people. For me and most likely a handful of others, nothing really fits perfectly. In my case, I wanted to help purify water and make a global impact in such a way that one of these three might not help me all the way. Most entrepreneurs need a combination of these options to move ahead.
Limited Liability Companies
It might be the case that you need to start an LLC. I choose to start an LLC, or limited liability company, because it allows me to create the business plan that is most helpful in achieving my goals. The great thing about an LLC is that, for legal purposes, it holds only the business’s assets accountable in case of a lawsuit. In other words, any of an entrepreneur’s personal assets are protected. This is really great for what I want to do and it allows me to simultaneously be protected and help gain the outreach that I need. This isn’t always the best case: it can be a hassle to start an LLC if your idea is a perfect fit for protection under a patent, copyright, or trademark. However, if none of these fit your product, the best bet, from what I have learned, is an LLC. It gives you freedom and flexibility while still protecting you and your idea. In the end, I choose to form an LLC over a patent because my goals have a global outreach instead of just a national outreach.
Whatever you will be doing, it is crucial to understand these differences and pick the path that is best for your idea. Be sure to evaluate each option so that you can most successfully continue down your path.
In the next post, I will give you a progress report on my journey and some little tips and tricks that may help you as they have helped me. Until then, be sure to continue your research and reflection on your idea, for only you can make the difference that you were made to make.
Here are some helpful links —
- The United States Patent and Trademark Office to file a patent online.
- United States Patent and Trademark Office to apply for a trademark.
- U.S. Copyright Office to register a copyright.
- Visit the website for the Secretary of State for your state to form an LLC.
Do the Legwork
Have your own conversations with top entrepreneurs and do not hesitate to get the input of an attorney who specializes in intellectual property.
Isabella (Bee) Pettner is a May 2017 graduate of Colorado Early Colleges Fort Collins where she concurrently earned her high school diploma and Associates Degree of Science from Front Range Community College. She is launching her own business, Bee’s Healthy Hand Habits, LLC, and is the owner of The Bee Sting, a shop that specializes in elegant and edgy fashion on Etsy. She also is Pretty Brainy’s Intern for Creative Technology. She has been part of Pretty Brainy for almost three years as a member of the design teams in Pretty Brilliant™, service learning in engineering design benefitting Habitat for Humanity, and Textiles + TechStyles™: Code, Innovation and Design Thinking. Bee loves inventing, engineering, designing, fashion, and math. She will attend Colorado State University beginning fall 2017 to major in apparel design with a double minor in saxophone and business.