Intellectual property FAQs
In 2012, patent law in the United States changed. The U.S. is now a "first to file" nation. That simply means that the patent for an innovation or product goes to the first person to file patent paperwork, not the first inventor. On a practical level, that means you need to file for a patent as soon as possible. Keep in mind that you can still file a provisional patent before filing for a full one. That way, you'll still be considered the first to file, even if you haven't worked out every detail.
While both copyrights and trademarks help protect your intellectual property, they deal with different kinds of creations. Copyrights are mostly concerned with creative works like books, songs, photographs and web content. Trademarks, on the other hand, protect symbols that are tied to goods and services that you have created such as a logo.
Both a trademark and registered mark assert ownership over goods and services. A registered mark is filed with the government. A trademark symbol may be used to let the public know you're claiming "common law" ownership over a word or phrase without filing with the government. If you want that ownership to be official, you'll want to file for a registered mark with the US Government.
Intellectual property is protected from other persons and businesses that try to profit from or distribute it without the owner's consent. For example, you can't simply set up a movie theater in your house and charge people to watch legally-protected movies. However, a teacher may be able to show protected-movies for educational purposes. That's because "fair use" often allows for intellectual property to be distributed and shown if it's for educational reasons.