Patents and Trademarks Can Protect Your Good Ideas
Samuel Fromartz 1996, Reuters News Service, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
If you have a great idea for a product or a service, the first question you should ask is, "How do I protect it?"
To answer this question, you're entering the complex area of intellectual property law that guards not only inventions but also trademar ks, such as product names, and copyrighted material, such as designs, photographs or essays.
"If you think your idea is worth several million bucks, then essentially a patent is a form of insurance to prevent someone from eating your lunch," said Thomas Field Jr., a professor at the Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord, N.H. Field emphasizes that the first step in considering a patent is to research whether your idea is worth any money, rather than getting wound up in enthusiasm about the invention itself. Someone might have already invented the product and you just might not know about it. Many eager inventors, enthralled at the prospect of making millions, also end up spending their savings on invention-marketing firms that promise patents without telling you that your idea is probably worthless. "There are two mistakes that people make when it comes to patent protection," Field said. "The first is by the people who say `I can't afford a patent.' They're wrong if their invention is worth something. "The second are the ones who think, `I'll get rich if I get a patent.' They're the ones who get suckered by the scam artists." Field advises that anyone with a product idea see a reputable patent lawyer who can then search whether the invention is original, whether it can be patented and how it possibly can be marketed. Field has a site on the Internet's World Wide Web with easy-to-understand information on patents, trademarks and copyrights, as well as links to other relevant Web sites (ht tp://www.fplc.edu/tfield/order.htm). Legislation is pending in Congress to make life more difficult for invention-marketing firms, which make their money by taking fees from inventors but may not help the product to market. …