Perhaps the most valuable aspect of every product is the human creativity that went into developing it from its original idea to its fully built-out, functioning reality. It’s that thought process that today’s intellectual property laws protect, and because that creativity exists in a continuum, there are a variety of protections that are available depending on what the product is, and where it is in development. As a crowdfunder, you’ll want to understand what tools exist to protect your product at each stage of its development.
Different Protections for Different Things
The legal protections that cover symbols (trademarks) or writings (copyrights) are different from those that protect products or things (patents), although some products or items contain elements of all three and can be protected by all three options. Read on to learn more about the types of protections available for products on Kickstarter or Indiegogo.
Most people recognize certain brands because they always present a distinct symbol, like a checkmark (Nike) or an apple with a bite out of it (Apple). Those symbols are trademarks, and trademark laws prevent others from copying the symbol or creating something so similar that people might be misled about its source. If your product carries a distinct symbol that signifies it as the product of you or your company, a trademark registration will help you protect it from copycats.
Copyrights protect any written material from being copied or used by another person without permission. “Written” elements can be images, artwork or words (among many other styles of “writing”), and they can also be computer code. A copyright registration or mark protects new coding and programming from being used in other programs. This protection does NOT include the idea that generated the writing; for that, you’ll need a patent.
Patents protect things and the processes that went into creating those things, including the processes that improved those things over time. Inventors who improve on existing things can obtain a patent on the improvement process even if they don’t hold the patent on the original item.
America uses a “first to file” (FTF) system for patents, meaning that the first person to file a patent application for an item will be the person granted that patent, even if they are not the first person with the idea who generated the product.
When it was first introduced, the FTF system stymied many inventors whose inventions weren’t ready for production so they weren’t ready to file for protection. Consequently, the U.S. patent office developed the “provisional patent,” which allows for the filing of a patent on a new but not-yet-ready product. Provisional patents protect inventors for up to 12 months to allow them the time to complete their product development process, including finding funding for it. If you’re in the middle of the inventing process and you want to preserve the uniqueness of your idea before it’s fully fleshed out, you should strongly consider obtaining a provisional patent.
Taking proactive steps before you launch your crowdfunding campaign ensures that the intellectual property element of your new product or design is safe from duplication or theft. For more tips for a successful crowdfunding campaign, tune in to our weekly podcast and subscribe to our newsletter.