Keep Your Patent Idea as a Trade Secret Instead
Keeping your patent idea as a trade secret can be a viable alternative if it concerns a particular process or procedure that can be kept confidential and cannot be reverse-engineered. Trade secrets can be protected indefinitely, so long as they remain secrets. Coca-Cola is one of the best examples; the beverage formula was never patented, but it remains protected due to the secrecy surrounding it. And none of Coca-Cola's competitors have ever managed to imitate its unique taste. But keep in mind that trade secrets have limitations. Unlike copyrights, trade secrets do not protect you if someone does manage to reverse-engineer your product or develops the same product or procedure independently.
Claim Trademark Protection without Registering It
You don't have to register your trademark to claim trademark protections. When you use the ™ symbol after your company's slogan, for example, you're communicating that it's trademarked. Of course you can only trademark it if it's unique, so do a thorough trademark search first. Publishing ideas and publically using the ™ symbol creates some historical evidence of your ownership of the trademark, but if you ever need to defend your trademark against an infringement, it's best to have your trademark officially registered with the USPTO. You can only use the ® symbol when your trademark is officially registered.
The answer to "Do I need a patent or trademark?" heavily depends on the type of intellectual property and your situation. If you have any questions, ask a lawyer.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.