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Before you contact a law firm to discuss protecting your intellectual property (IP), understand the basics of IP, such as intellectual property patents.  The basics include the differences between a patent, trademark and copyright.  Simply put, you patent an invention, you trademark the name of the invention and you copyright the written work e.g. the instruction manual.  

A patent provides exclusive rights to make, use, import, sell and offer for sale the invention for up to 20 years.  During this time, the inventors may be working to bring their product to market or license it through patent licensing.  If you attempt to market a patented invention, the patent owner may sue you for patent infringement.  If you're an inventor, recognize that just because you don't see your invention in the market or online, does not mean that your invention is patentable.  According to intellectual property policy, to be patentable, your invention must be useful, novel and non-obvious.  

A thorough and comprehensive patent search can save you money by identifying prior art references that teach your invention alone (to demonstrate your invention lacks novelty) or in combination with multiple references (to demonstrate your invention is obvious).  If your invention lacks novelty, identical features of your invention are taught by the prior art references.  Your invention is said to be obvious if the differences between the subject matter sought to be patented and the prior art are such that the subject matter as a whole would have been obvious at the time the invention was made to a person having ordinary skill in the art to which said subject matter pertains.  Prior art references not only include patents but also include all information disclosed to the public prior to your invention.  

Its best to identify prior art before you invest in filing your patent application.  A novelty search conducted by a professional can help you identify your competitors and even potential licensees. Most importantly, the patent search can help you determine if your invention is patentable!  Initially, you should conduct your own research using online resources.  However, budget to have a trained and experienced patent professional conduct a novelty search for you.  

[THIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED IN THE SEPT. 2009 LAW FIRM OF ANDREA HENCE EVANS, LLC NEWSLETTER.  SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER AT Evans IP Law.] This article is not legal advice and is for informational purposes only. 

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