Intellectual Property in the United States consists of patents, trademarks, and copyright. These can be valuable to entrepreneurs in a variety of ways such as helping develop and refine a product, providing protection for ideas, developing branding and marketing materials, and surveying competitors' activities.
Patents: Patents provide intellectual property protection for 20 years for inventions that are unique, useful, and non-obvious. In return for property rights, the inventor must provide detailed information about the invention in order "to promote the progress of science and useful arts" (U.S. Const. art. I, sec. 8). Click here for more information from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on searching patents.
Searching for patents can be very helpful in idea generation, surveying the competitive landscape, and finding technical information on an invention. Use the following online resources to search for patents:
Copyright: Copyright provides intellectual property protection for intellectual works such as "literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works". (United States Copyright Office, Copyright Basics) New works are protected for the life of the author plus 70 years.
Trademarks: Trademarks are a unique word or symbol that helps distinguish a product, company, or service. Trademarks are registered through the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The initial term is for 10 years, but it can be renewed.