Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights

Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights
By:  Michael Sanibel

It’s important to protect your business from others who may want to steal your valuable ideas and products.  The purpose of this article is to describe the different types of legal protections available and how they work.  While these protections perform similar functions, it’s important to understand that they each serve a distinct purpose.


Patents are granted by the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office.  The first patent was issued to Samuel Hopkins for a new apparatus and process of making the fertilizer ingredient called potash.  It was personally signed by President George Washington on July 31, 1790.  

A patent is a property right granted to the inventor that is enforceable for a period of 14 years (designs) or 20 years (products) from the date of filing.  With the exception of certain pharmaceutical patents, it takes a special act of Congress to get an extension.  It gives the holder "the right 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, and, if the invention is a process, of the right to exclude others from using, offering for sale or selling throughout the United States, or importing into the United States.”   

Once a patent expires, the property right is lost and the inventor can no longer exclude others from making or profiting from the invention.  One advantage of a patent is that it can be sold like any other piece of property.  It’s not uncommon for inventors to transfer all their patent rights to established companies rather than undertake the time and expense of making the product themselves.  This is usually done in consideration for a fixed fee or future royalty payments.


A trademark can be a name, symbol, logo, or any device used in business that distinguishes your goods or products from those of another source.  Examples are McDonald’s hamburgers, its iconic golden arches, and Ronald McDonald.  A service mark differs from a trademark only in that it identifies the source of a function or service, rather than a specific product.  An example is a landscaper that uses his or her name as the service mark for their business.  It’s very common for the words "trademark” and "mark” to be used interchangeably.  

Trademark protection is available by registering the mark with the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office.  Once registered, the trademark grants exclusive rights to the mark and prohibits others from using it or any other mark that closely resembles it.  However, it does not prevent the production of the same products or services under a different mark.  The protection extends to both interstate and international trade and is valid for ten years from the approval date.  It can be renewed every ten years thereafter so long as it remains in current use.


The Copyright Act of 1976 represented the first major revision to copyright statutes in the United States since 1909.  Much had changed over the years, including the advent of motion pictures, radio, and the recording of sound through various methods.  Copyright protection extends to all "original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.”  

"Works of Authorship” are defined to include:

  • Literary works (books, magazines, newspapers, etc.)
  • Motion pictures and videos
  • Sound recordings (phonograph records, tape recordings, CDs, digital music files)
  • Sheet music, including lyrics and chords
  • Photographs, drawings, and graphic renderings
  • Works of architecture and sculpture
  • Dramatic works, pantomimes, and choreography
Copyright protection generally lasts for the life of the creator of the work plus an additional 70 years.  If the work was made for hire, anonymous, or pseudonymous, the protection lasts for the lesser of 95 years from its first publication or 120 years from its creation. 

The rights are exclusive to the owner of the copyright and include the performance, reproduction, distribution, and sale of the protected work.  The U. S. Copyright Office registers claims to copyrights and is the official office of record.

Fair Use Doctrine  

A copyright is not infringed if it is done under the umbrella of "fair use.”  This includes the use or reproduction of copyrighted material "for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research.”  

The purpose of the use, the nature of the work, and the amount of the work used in relation to the whole are all considered when judging the applicability of this exception.  The effect that the use will have on the future value of the work in the marketplace is also a factor, especially if the use is commercial in nature rather than educational.

If you have created something of commercial value, it’s important to protect it to preserve your legal rights and potential profits.  The type of protection you should get depends on several factors including cost, time, and the uniqueness and market value of your idea or product.  Obtaining a patent can be a costly and time-consuming process that may never actually pay off, and this must be weighed against the expected benefit.  

If you believe it may be worth the time and effort to file for a patent, trademark, or copyright, you should seek the counsel of an attorney who specializes in this area of the law.  He or she will be able to independently assess the viability of your claim and whether or not someone else has already staked such a claim.  If these options don’t pan out, consider protecting your discovery as a
trade secret which costs nothing and lasts indefinitely.

Michael Sanibel is a freelance writer specializing in business, marketing, personal finance, law, science, aviation, sports, entertainment, travel, and political analysis. He graduated from the United States Air Force Academy and is also licensed to practice law in California and New Hampshire.  Michael wrote this feature article exclusively for Debbie (, an organization dedicated to helping small businesses succeed.

Social Media Basics: Do You YouTube?

Social Media Basics:  Do You YouTube?

On April 23, 2005, three former PayPal employees debuted the first-ever video on their new creation, The 19-second clip, featuring co-founder Jawed Karim, was titled "Me at the Zoo” — which pretty much summed up its content.  

Talk about coming a long way in a short time: Now owned by Google Inc., YouTube is one of the lynchpins of today’s social media. And while many users are on this video-sharing website for fun, not profit, an increasing number of businesses are turning to YouTube to get their message out to the masses.  

Getting Started
If you are one of the remaining few who has yet to watch a video on YouTube, you may wonder what all the fuss is about. The site houses scores of videos, from first-hand accounts of current events to the efforts of an as-yet-undiscovered songwriter, from viral commercials to cute babies and cute cats doing cute things. Viewers not only watch these videos, they can share them with friends, rate them and comment on them.  

For artisans, there are plenty of business opportunities to harness the power of YouTube, including:  

• video galleries of your work;
• overviews about your business missions;
• instructions on the use of your products;
• explanations of techniques and processes;
• you-are-there spots from your latest exhibition at a fair or show;
• virtual tours of your shop or studio; and
• profiles on staffers and their special areas of expertise.  

Your video doesn’t have to be long to be effective. YouTube recently raised its maximum time to 15 minutes, but most videos are much shorter. Once you poke around the site, you’ll realize it doesn’t have to be done with expensive production values, either. Many cell phones and inexpensive video cameras can be used to record and post videos to YouTube. Users with a webcam can instantly record video onto the site rather than having to prerecord and then upload the video.  

After creating a YouTube account, the next thing to do is create a YouTube "channel” for your business, so that all your videos are stored in one place for viewers to find easily. AAB has its own channel, for example, at  

Next, decide whether you want your video to be private or public. The public option means anyone can stumble upon you based upon a keyword or "related video” link.  The private option lets you choose who sees it upon upload. This is not only good for uploading personal videos that you don’t necessarily want the world to see, but it also opens up interesting marketing avenues — like telling only your handpicked viewers that they get an extra 10% off their holiday purchase.  

Another great benefit to YouTube is its video embedding feature. Upon upload of a public video, the site provides an embed code that you can copy and paste onto your website, Facebook page or into email messages so that visitors can see the video on those spaces. Other sites can also embed your videos, increasing the potential views they will receive.  

Encourage customers to become subscribers to your channel, so that whenever you upload a new video, they’re notified and can check it out. You can also build a network by "friending” your suppliers and business partners’ videos to increase each others’ views.  

Return on investment
Target Marketing
magazine recommends measuring four sets of data to determine your video’s success:  

1. Number of people who viewed it;
2. Average amount of video that was viewed;
3. Click-though rate to different next steps (email you, visit your site, watch your other videos); and
4. Transmission rate of the video.  

It’s also important to monitor feedback, good and bad, to help you determine the direction of future videos.  

To help you analyze all this data, try YouTube Insight. This free tool offered by YouTube allows anyone with a YouTube account — users, partners or advertisers — to view detailed statistics about the videos they upload to the site.  

Consider this: Every 60 seconds, 24 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube. Are you part of this phenomenon?

HEATHER GOOCH  ( is vice president of Gooch & Gooch LLC, an editorial marketing services firm.  She specializes in marketing for the needlework and craft industries.  Heather wrote this feature article exclusively for Debbie (, an organization dedicated to helping small businesses succeed.

Have You Outgrown Your Home Studio?

Have You Outgrown Your Home Studio?

Christine Mason Miller (, an artist based in Santa Monica, CA, had worked in a 144 square-foot home studio space for many years.  

While the small home studio served her well over the years it was challenging to work on larger pieces.  "I’m a mixed media artist so I tend to create quite a mess,” she says.  

This summer, Miller took the plunge and sublet a larger studio -- just to see what it was like to have more space.  

"It was an eye-opening experience,” says Miller.  Subletting a larger studio for a short time in the summer gave her taste of how it would feel -- and what it would mean to her creativity -- to operate in more spacious digs.    

Her time in the bigger studio rewarded her in ways she had not expected, says Miller:  "Aside from the absolute glee I felt at being able to leave things in a state of disarray at the end of the day, it also made a huge difference to have a wall to hang my work.”  She was able to comfortably rearrange pieces to better prepare for shows.   

It also freed her from all the distractions she had at home: "Things like laundry, dishes and the Internet tend to drain my time on any given week…but in the sublet studio I felt I was in a quiet, creative bubble where no one could reach me unless I allowed it,” says Miller.   

Is Home-Sweet-Home the Best Place for Your Studio?  

As Miller discovered over the years, having a home studio has its wonderful perks: It is a short commute, you can work in your pajamas if you’d like, and you can go from at-home mode to work mode at almost any time of the day or night.  

But as your art and business evolves you may find that your home can no longer accommodate what you need for your business to reach the next level.  

Like Miller, it could be that you need to get away from a claustrophobic home studio in order to be the best artisan you can be.  Or it could be that your work stuff has outgrown the space and spreading, octopus-like, into other areas of your home.  

If you are tripping over boxes of inventory in the kitchen and bedroom, or your studio is so filled with materials and paperwork that you can’t even work comfortably anymore it may be time to consider moving your studio outside the home.  

More Space or Better Use of Current Space?  

However, before you make the leap to spending money to lease a studio outside your home, take a good look at why you feel cramped in your current home studio.  

"I think there’s a fine line between an outgrown studio and an overgrown studio,” says Debra Baida, professional organizer with
Liberated Spaces ( of San Francisco, Calif. "On some basic level the latter has to be ruled out before the former can be declared.”  

One way to find out is to answer this important question: Is what you are tripping over clutter or creativity or some combination of the two?  

"Before throwing your hands in the air and saying you need a bigger space, it’s important to determine if the existing space really can or cannot handle the function and necessary tools to carry out your creative functions,” Baida suggests.  

"I've walked into home studios where the floor was barely visible … Once we got finished clearing and appointing ‘homes’ for the tools of their creativity, suddenly the room serving as home studio was more than adequate,” says Baida.  

However, there are times when the reality is that the physical size of an artisan’s work, such as in Miller’s case, exceeds the current space and stifles creativity -- and even safety.  "Then you have some sure signs that its time to move on to a larger space,” says Baida.  

Bigger Space: Bigger Expenses  

Going from no rent to a monthly expense of a studio outside the home can be a financial shock. But with a little creativity you can ease the pain.  

For example, Miller was able to supplement her sublet studio rent with other artists and teachers who needed temporary and limited use of the space. One friend taught a six-week improvisational class, another taught singing lessons twice a week, and another artist friend shared the space with her for the month of August. "In addition to this, I rented the space for a show organized by someone else and hosted a weekend-long art workshop that covered almost all of my July rent,” says Miller.  

But in many cases, you can’t count on your studio bringing in revenue, so before you sign a lease make sure you can swing the added expense.  Remember that you probably won’t just be responsible for rent alone: ask if you will have to pay a portion of the electricity, gas, trash, water, etc.  Also, make sure you are not locked into a long-term lease should you want to move back into your home studio, or rent a bigger studio.  

Miller’s summer sublet is now over, but she will be working out a longer term arrangement so that she can use the studio for her larger work.   

The added expense is was worth it to her, she says, because during her time in the bigger studio she made more money than she has in a long time: "Between generating other types of activities in the space and the flow of people in and out…resulted in more sales of my work.  It was a win-win-win all the way around.”  

MARCIA PASSOS DUFFY ( is a freelance business writer based in New Hampshire and is a member of the state’s artisan and business organization, NH Made.  Marcia’s articles have appeared on Yahoo Finance, CNBC,,, Smart Business Magazine, The New York Times Lifewire, The Weather Channel, among others; she is the author of the book, Be Your Own Boss. She is also the publisher and editor of Our Local Table magazine ( and The Heart of New England magazine (  Marcia
wrote this feature article exclusively for Debbie (, an organization dedicated to helping small businesses succeed.

Prepare for Fall: Turning Your Products Into Profits

Prepare for Fall: Turning Your Products Into Profits
By Cynthia Bull

With fall just around the corner, now’s the time to get your sales products ready for maximum profits. But exactly how is the best way to do that? It’s easier than you might think, especially with craft products. Before you begin to create new products, think of ways to re-purpose last year’s leftover items by giving them a face lift. For example, add a new color to last year’s decorative decoupage box and put a fragrant potpourri scent inside.

In her article "Easy Fall Decorations - Fun Autumn Projects for the Entire Family,” Dana Burnett ( suggests making potpourri a family event. She states: "Send the kids out into the garden to collect the last flowers of the garden, pine cones, and even thick dried leaves. Coarsely chop these and add them to a glass bowl. Purchase your favorite liquid potpourri oils in autumn scents and toss it throughout the collected garden goods. Cover with plastic and let it cure for a few weeks and your family now has its own signature potpourri blend!”

By adding a new color and an aromatic fragrance, you’ve created a wonderful new product ready for the fall craft shows that even your most loyal customers may not recognize. What’s the bonus here? Along with enjoying family time, you get to add a new price to last year’s "unused” item that will potentially boost sales this year, and with very little extra work on your part.

Not sure that you want to start a business in a big way? Then think of turning a hobby into a business this season and step out with other craft show vendors with your specialty item. A great way to begin is to make your own cards. Carol Lennox ( says it’s important to choose the card making project that interests you; for example, birthday cards for family and friends. She says that some people prefer to make cards by hand, while others prefer to purchase card making software. Either way, she says a good business tip is to "Think of the card recipient and pick something that will be special to them…when you're producing mass amounts and a variety of cards, especially for sale.”

With a bit of ingenuity, your thoughtful ideas and talented hands can turn raw materials like paper, glue and stencil into products that last throughout the year… and also create profits!

It’s generally the fall season when many people think about going to craft shows and turning their hobby into a business. Hobbies can be a great source of relaxation and certainly reduce stress, but that relaxed feeling frequently changes when thinking about a hobby as a business. When that thought enters the equation, an otherwise normal, emotionally healthy individual can become a basket case and their own worst critique, their biggest stumbling block.

Sharon Michaels (, author of How To Give Yourself The Power To Succeed, found that she was her biggest stumbling block and took steps to make changes for the better. After years of studying, workshops and seminars she says that, "As I began to conquer my own internal stumbling blocks, things began to change for the better. I’ve turned all my learning and teaching into what I do today – it is my passion!”

Sometimes the greatest step you can take in business is to get out of your own way and let your natural talents and intelligence take over. Following your instincts can be your best ally, but you won’t realize it if you continue to stand back in the shadows and not venture out. Stepping out from the safety of a hobby into any business is a risk, and it takes courage.

Whether you're putting a new twist on an old product, or about to break through the starting gate of new business this fall season, these tips apply to any season and most types of businesses:

  • Get started! Don’t put off updating your sales products, creating new products, or turning your hobby into a business. If that's been your desire, now’s the time to venture out. (Most likely, other newbies will be there!)
  • Minimize expenses like accounting by handling this cost yourself, if at all possible. If you're operating on a shoestring, look to supportive family members and friends you trust to help out in these early stages and during difficult economic times.
  • Be inventive, attentive and polite to clients and always wear a smile.
  • Have something unexpected to give clients. You want them to buy your products, so as much as possible give them something extra. Along with your great product, they’ll remember that you went the extra mile for them. And Be Sure to invite them to return to your booth next year for more great items.
  • Have a mailing/email list and ask them to sign up, and then follow up with them as soon as the craft show is over (or within 72 hours). 

See how many of these tips you can stretch from fall into winter, then spring and summer. By constantly updating your products, paying attention to your expenses and marketing, and always doing more than what is expected of you, your chances for success grow exponentially. CYNTHIA BULL is an internationally published writer and editor who helps international authors, marketers and speakers add greater value to their products through her top-quality writing, editing and transcription services. She is the author of How To Be A Medical Transcriptionist and Winning At Work While Balancing Your Life, a contributing author of Walking with the Wise Entrepreneur (Mentors Publishing House), cited in Make BIG Profits on eBay (Entrepreneur Press), and Managing Editor of Mentors Magazine Think & Grow Rich Edition. Cynthia has created over 200 book products in the past two years for her clients and, as mentor, helps clients reach their goals through her products, experience and genuine caring. Cynthia
wrote this feature article exclusively for Debbie (, an organization dedicated to helping small businesses succeed.