Tag Archives: patent holder

Trademarks and Copyrights as Competitive Advantage

Trademarks and Copyrights as Competitive Advantage

As an inventor and patent holder, some of my strongest intellectual property has been my trademarks and copyrights. According to the US Patent and Trademark Office:


trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. A service mark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than goods. Some examples include: brand names, slogans, and logos. The term “trademark” is often used in a general sense to refer to both trademarks and service marks.  


Unlike patents and copyrights, trademarks do not expire after a set term of years.  Trademark rights come from actual “use”. Therefore, a trademark can last forever – as long as you continue to use the mark in commerce to indicate the source of goods and services.  


Must all trademarks be registered? No, registration is not mandatory.  You can establish “common law” rights in a mark based solely on use of the mark in commerce, without a registration.  However, federal registration of a trademark with the USPTO has several advantages, including a notice to the public of the registrant’s claim of ownership of the mark, a legal presumption of ownership nationwide, and the exclusive right to use the mark on or in connection with the goods or services set forth in the registration. 


Melissa Dagodag of the Law Offices of Melissa K. Dagodag specializes in trademark and copyright law. Melissa answers some of our questions about both:


What is the most important thing business owners need to now about copyrights and trademarks?


You want to make sure you’re not stepping on someone else’s toes by using a substantially similar (in the case of a copyright) image, literary work, photographic work, etc., or by using a confusingly similar (in the case of trademarks) brand name or logo. So, you should hire an attorney to search existing copyrights and trademarks before you actually start using them.


What is the difference between a copyright and a trademark? Do you need both? 


These are frequently confused, and in fact are very different. A copyright gives the owner the right to control how a creative work is used and is made up of a number of exclusive rights, including the right to make copies, authorize others to make copies, make derivative works, and sell and market the work, and perform the work. In contrast, a trademark gives the owner the right to exclude others from using a confusingly similar trademark or brand name or logo (a distinctive sign or indicator used by an individual, business, or other entity to identify that the products or services with which the trademark appears originate from a unique source and distinguish its products or services from those of other entities).


Do you need to protect everything with a copyright or trademark?


It’s not a question of necessity. If you want to minimize your chances of being sued for trademark or copyright infringement, then it’s a good idea to have an attorney run a trademark or copyright search before you begin using a trademark, or publishing an image, design, or photograph, etc. that may be copyrighted. Federal registration of both copyrights and trademarks may also give the owner certain rights to statutory damages in the event of an infringement of the owner’s copyright or trademark that the owner will lose if the owner does not have a federal registration.


How long is your work covered by a copyright or trademark?


The term or duration of a copyright in the U.S. is generally the life of the author plus seventy five years if the work is created today. If it was created in the past, the rules are more complicated. You can go to www.uspto.gov to learn more. As far as trademarks are concerned, the way one gains and keeps ownership of a trademark is through actual use of the mark on goods or in connection with services. Therefore, as long as one continues to use the mark in commerce, one keeps the trademark alive. The duration of a trademark is therefore potentially unlimited. 




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The Woman Inventor That Saved the Cotton Industry

The Woman Inventor That Saved the Cotton Industry

One reason only a fraction of patent holders are women is because women simply aren’t encouraged to invent. That wasn’t the case with Ruth Benerito, who was surrounded by encouragement in her formative years, which was spent in the grips of the Great Depression.


Her father was an engineer, who made sure his daughters had access to the same education that was available to boys, at a time when girls didn’t go on to college. Ruth started her college education at the age of 15 and earned a degree in chemistry and math, though chemistry suited her the most because she enjoyed solving practical problems. Her parents both encouraged her to compete in a man’s world, and then, STEM fields were even more of a man’s world than they are now.


She spent most of her career working at the US Department of Agriculture in New Orleans. It was there that she began researching cotton fibers and would go on to hold 55 patents in that area. Before Ruth’s system of chemically treated cotton was invented, clothing had to be ironed by hand, which took considerable time. Cotton clothes could now, not only be wrinkle resistant, but flame and stain resistant as well, through her process known as cross linking.


Since synthetic materials like nylon and polyester had already been invented, many people were switching to those to avoid ironing. For this reason, Ruth was known for saving the cotton industry with her new inventions in wash and wear fabrics. Her research and patents in the cotton industry would become the basis for new, future developments in that area. Ruth, like many other woman inventors, created something that would save women time.


She also developed a way to deliver fat intravenously to patients who were too sick to eat. This was a method used to feed seriously wounded soldiers during the Korean War.


She enjoyed a long career as a chemist and inventor, retiring in 1986. Ruth received the prestigious Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award for her work on textiles at the age of 86, and was elected to the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame in 2008.

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