Things to Consider
Being aware of your nonprofit’s rights related to intellectual property is important to protect your organization’s brand and reputation. The first step is deciding if your organization has a name, original works, or an invention to protect.
- Determine if what you are trying to protect falls into one of the three types of intellectual property rights: trademark, copyright, or patent.
- Conduct a search (Trademark Electronic Search System, US Copyright Database, Patents) to determine if the what you are trying to protect is already registered.
- Consider the magnitude of damage if another organization or individual utilized what you are trying to protect.
- Decide if your organization wants to undergo the process of obtaining legal protection and monitoring any infractions if you do receive the protection.
What is a Trademark?
Any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used, or intended to be used, in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from goods manufactured or sold by others, and to indicate the source of the goods.
Examples: Coca-Cola, LEGO
Trademarks can help protect your organization’s name by avoiding confusion with other organizations with similar names, especially if you serve a large geographic area.
What is a Servicemark?
Any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used, or intended to be used, in commerce, to identify and distinguish the services of one provider from services provided by others, and to indicate the source of the services. Examples: FedEx, Google.
Restrictions: Common words or terms that identify products and services and are not specific to any particular source are not eligible to be trademarked or servicemarked.
What is a Copyright?
A form of protection to the authors of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works.
Examples: A novel like To Kill a Mockingbird, a film like The Graduate, a work of art like the Mona Lisa.
Restrictions. Certain items are not eligible for copyright protection. Some common exemptions:
- Works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression
- Titles, names, slogans, familiar symbols, and variations of lettering
- Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration
- Works consisting entirely of information that is common property and containing no original authorship
Copyrighting original works such as a curriculum or instructor’s guide may be beneficial if your organization would like to sell the materials or items.
What is a Patent?
An intellectual property right granted by the U.S. Government to an inventor “to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States” for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted.
Patenting an invention may be helpful if your organization would like to sell the materials or items.
Trademarks/Servicemarks. Registration with the US Patent and Trademark office can take approximately a year and requires a filing fee. You can find a list of all the steps including links to forms needed here.
Copyrights. Once you publish your work, it is protected. Registration with the US Copyright Office allows you to bring a lawsuit if your copyright is infringed. To register your copyright online, you will need to submit the proper form, pay a filing fee, and a copy of your work. The process should be complete in approximately 3 months.
Patents. Registration with the US Patent and Trademark office can cost $190 to $380 for filing fees and can be lengthy. You can find a diagram on their website that outlines the process depending on the type of patent desired.