Protecting intellectual property (IP) can be a long, expensive process, especially for veteran entrepreneurs who are throwing their time and money into building a new business. A good idea is a good idea, and people who create a new process, invention, popular design or something else entirely new still need to protect the rights to their creation.
“Patents, trademarks and copyrights are an important engine of innovation in this country,” Chuck Tyler, CEO of Veterans Intellectual Property (VIP), tells Military.com. “All the ideas we generate lead to untold wealth and the advancement of the country. Veterans have used patents, trademarks and copyrights to elevate themselves and the economy; that’s why we feel this is so important.”
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Tyler is a Gulf War veteran who first joined the Army in 1987. He separated for a few years but went back in until 2003. He’s always been passionate about his fellow vets and about veteran-owned businesses. After leaving the Army, he met Greg Carson, founder of Carson Patents, a for-profit company that files patent, trademark and copyright paperwork for its clients.
Carson started a nonprofit organization that does the same work for veterans, free of charge, and appointed Tyler to run it. These days, Tyler is trying to get the word out to veteran entrepreneurs about the importance of protecting their creations, and how Veterans Intellectual Property will handle the legal end of that, free of charge.
“It’s a complex battlefield to navigate,” Tyler says. “If there’s one little error on a form, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will kick back the application. You have to apply for the correct type of protection and then track those forms, which can be a formidable task.”
Veterans Intellectual Property has handled patent cases that took as long as three years to finish, and Tyler notes the cost of the process can be as high as $10,000. The cost of not protecting IP can result in the loss of a patent or becoming victim to a patent troll, someone who uses questionable patents to file lawsuits against people who are actually innovating.
Read: Dreaming of Product Invention? Here's How One Veteran Made It Happen
Not filing the correct paperwork can mean tying up a patent application for months until the mistakes are fixed. Worse yet, the application can get kicked back entirely, forcing the application to start from scratch.
Veterans Intellectual Property gathers resources, raises funds and retains patent attorneys who volunteer their pro bono hours to handle the entire process for military members, veterans and military dependents. It allows VIP to handle this all-important aspect of veteran entrepreneurship for its clients, free of charge.
The “poor man’s patenting,” the idea of mailing your work to yourself to prove that you created the work, no longer flies in court these days. It’s not a legal protection, so Tyler recommends filing for the actual copyright, which protects the creator for the duration of their lifetime plus 70 years.
“When you talk about copyrights, you are talking about intellectual property that was written,” Tyler says. “Books, articles, plays, song lyrics and then anything that could be printed or created like photos and artwork. The good part is, you can literally show your work. When someone tries to profit from that by duplicating it, that’s when protection kicks in.”
While copyrights are generally used to protect creative works, trademarks are protections for business practices. Coca-Cola, for example, has two types of protections. It has trade secret protections for the original Coca-Cola formula, and it has a trademark on its ribbon logo.
Veteran entrepreneurs can do the same with distinctive recipes or formulations in products. They can also just as easily trademark their logos and slogans, as long as the trademarked item is an identifier of their particular goods or services. Trademarks never expire as long as the business is using the trademark.
“There are three steps that you can take with a patent,” Tyler says. “You can file a provisional patent, which temporarily protects your idea until you engage in a formal process. If you're not ready or unsure, then the provisional is all the legwork that happens. This means you are trying to figure out which direction you need to go.”
Once the patent is pending, those directions can be either a utility patent, a patent that covers the creation of a new or improved process or invention, protecting the creator for 20 years. It could also end up being a design patent, which covers new, original or ornamental designs for a product for 15 years.
Apple, for example, did not create the first smartphone, nor did it create the first handheld device that used the internet. Yet, it holds a patent for the iPhone’s unique design, simply called “electronic device,” protecting the simple, yet revolutionary design.
Plants can also be patented. Hybrid plants, new seedlings or even fungi that have been invented, discovered or asexually reproduced into a new kind of plant can be patented. Plant patents are protection that lasts for 20 years.
For more information about patents, trademarks and copyrights, or how to begin protecting your intellectual property for free with Veterans Intellectual Property, start at the VIP website.
-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on LinkedIn.
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