Intellectual property may begin as a creative idea, but that idea may in time turn into your most valuable business asset, and you’ll need to protect it. When that happens, you’ll need the sound legal advice of an experienced central Florida business attorney who fully understands intellectual property law.

In the 21st century, intellectual property protection is a leading concern for every business, so it is imperative for business owners to work with an experienced business attorney to protect your company’s innovations, inventions, and confidential information.

You will probably want to register your company’s trademarks, and you will also want to copyright any original works of creativity such as literary, dramatic, musical, or artistic work, novels, movies, songs, poetry, computer software, and architectural drawings. Several kinds of inventions, however, will require will patent protection. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issues about 15,000 patents each month.

What should be patented? Manufactured items, machines and devices, industrial processes, and chemical compositions may all be patented. The amount of time that patents offer legal protection depends on the type of patent. Design patents granted for design patent applications filed on or after May 13, 2015, provide fifteen years of legal protection in the United States.

In most cases, utility patents and plant patents offer legal protection for twenty years. Extensions may be available for some patents. A good patent attorney can explain any details that may apply to your own patent applications.

WHY ARE PATENTS SO IMPORTANT FOR BUSINESS?

By providing exclusive property rights for a limited number of years, the U.S. patent system helps inventors recover the costs of their research and development. Pharmaceutical companies, for example, rely on patents to protect the time and resources they invest in research when they bring a new drug to the market. Without patent protection – that is, without the ability to keep the competition from copying a new product – drug companies would have no financial incentive to develop new drugs.

Because the rights granted by a U.S. patent apply only in the United States and U.S. territories, inventors and business owners who seek international patent protection must apply for a patent in each country where they believe they need patent protection.

Almost every nation has its own patent laws. However, the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), an international patent law treaty in effect since 1978, offers inventors and businesses one procedure for filing patent applications in the nations that have signed the treaty.

By filing a single application through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, applicants in the U.S. can simultaneously seek patent protection in more than 140 nations. A patent application filed under the Patent Cooperation Treaty is called an international patent application or simply a “PCT” application. However, filing a PCT application is no guarantee that a patent will be granted by any particular nation.

There is no “international” patent, so the approval or denial of a patent is ultimately determined by the appropriate authorities in each particular nation. Submitting a PCT application is merely the first step toward obtaining international patent protection, although the nations that have signed the Patent Cooperation Treaty generally adhere to comparable patent laws and procedures.

WHAT IS AN INTERNATIONAL SEARCH REPORT?

Filing a PCT application triggers a search by an authorized International Searching Authority (ISA) to find any relevant information or documents that would impact the application for patent protection. An International Search Report (ISR) is then issued along with a written opinion regarding patentability. The search and search report can sometimes take less than a year, but in most cases, the wait is sixteen months or more, and delays should be expected.

The International Search Report is quite useful and needs to be considered carefully. The information can help international patent applicants decide precisely where they should seek international patent protection, since fees, translation expenses, and other costs ultimately have to be paid to each nation that grants patent protection. However, patent officials in many nations will rely on the information in the ISR, so that at least saves applicants from paying separate search fees to each nation where patent protection is desired.

The Patent Cooperation Treaty does not spell out what types of inventions may qualify for international patent protection. That is left to each nation to decide. The PCT states: “Nothing in this Treaty and the Regulations is intended to be construed as prescribing anything that would limit the freedom of each contracting state to prescribe such substantive conditions of patentability as it desires.”

HOW CAN A PATENT ATTORNEY HELP?

Whether domestic or international, a patent application must describe the discovery or the invention to be patented and explain precisely what the discovery or invention is and why it is distinctive and merits patent protection. Describing a discovery or an invention might sound easy, but anyone who is seeking a patent is going to need an experienced patent lawyer’s help.

Several Supreme Court rulings and an increasing number of regulations have made it more difficult to create the precise type of description that is required for a patent application. You will need a patent attorney’s guidance.

Other types of intellectual property will also need legal protection if your company does business internationally. The Madrid Protocol is an international treaty that allows a trademark owner to seek trademark registration in any of the countries that have signed it. By filing one trademark registration application with the USPTO, U.S. applicants may simultaneously seek trademark protection in more than eighty nations.

Most nations do not require separate copyright registration. The United States has reciprocal copyright relations with most nations; each of these nations honors the copyrights issued in the other nations. Still, not every nation has such a relationship with the United States, so you should consult an experienced business attorney if you believe that you need international copyright protection.

With Florida’s easy access to the Caribbean and to Central and South America, more companies in Florida need international intellectual property protection every year. Business owners in Florida should work with an experienced central Florida business attorney to develop a comprehensive intellectual property protection strategy and to secure and register patents and trademarks in the key foreign markets where you intend to do business.