US Starts to Bring Patent Office into the 20th Century (not yet the 21st!)

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There has been a lot of talk lately about how antiquated the US Patent Office is, and how slow the process has become for receiving a patent. It now takes two years for an inventor to get an initial ruling on a patent application and an additional year before the patent is approved. This is more than just a nuisance for the inventor, according to a recent New York Times article. Patentable ideas are the basis for many start-up companies and small businesses. Venture capitalists often require start-ups to have a patent before offering financing. That means that patent delays cost jobs, slow the economy and threaten the ability of American companies to compete with foreign businesses.

While intellectual property (which includes patents, as well as trademark and copyright) isn’t in my usual areas of practice, it is a subject that interests me a lot. I just finished a translation about a patent for the drug Nexium and how the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca is using unfair tactics such as “evergreeing” to delay the marketing and sale of the generic equivalent to Nexium. The market for pharmaceutical is worth billions of dollars and the companies involved will go to all lengths to protect their products.

And they should. All companies, whether small or large, should protect their intellectual property because that is what makes your company unique. Your trademark, your company name, your logo and your tagline…or the book you wrote, the video you produced or your website content…or the invention you created that will change the world…these are what identify your company from the competition. Why would you not want to protect that?

Here are some simple ways to do so:

  • Make sure you use the TM symbol on your logo, company name or tag line. You can use the “registered mark” (the R with a circle around it) only when you federally register for trademark protection.
  • Identify all works that you produce (copy for example) as copyrighted by you/your company with the year. Even though you perhaps haven’t federally registered for copyright protection, you are still protected under our laws but need to put other on notice that you are claiming your rights to the work.
  • Police the market place for companies that might start with a name similar to yours and that operate in the same industry. Take action and ask them to stop if you were the first to use the name. It is harder to enforce your rights if you sit on them.
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