What Is a Patent?

A patent is a type of legal protection for an invention. If you have filed a patent application for your invention, you can market or sell the product with the words "Patent Pending." "Patent Applied For" is also acceptable verbiage. This can be used as soon as you receive provisional approval from the USPTO. This alerts competitors that infringing on the invention could result in legal action since you will have the right to seek monetary damages in court once the patent is awarded.

When your patent is issued you must replace the words Patent Pending with the words “U.S. Pat. No. X,XXX,XXX” with your official patent number. Check the packaging of reputable products to see samples of how this should appear.

Your patent is good for 20 years from the file date, after which you may no longer use this designation on your product or packaging.

You may see a P in a circle used to indicate that an item is patented, but this usage is incorrect. The circled P symbol actually is used for a copyrighted musical recording (the P stands for phonogram).

Before passage of the American Invents Act (AIA), patent owners were required to use the patent number of their product or packaging. Today, you can also take advantage of virtual marking. This means that after the word Patent, you can include a URL where the person can find more information about your patent.

In situations where a symbol or image is required to represent the patent, you can use the seal and ribbon icon provided by the USPTO, which is printed on the cover of your issued patent.

What Is a Trademark?

According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), a trademark consists of designs, words, phrases, symbols, or a combination of these elements that serves to distinguish your business's products and services from those offered by competitors. You can trademark your business name, product names, color palettes, tagline, logo, and other branding elements.

A trademark that has been registered with the USPTO can be identified by placing the ® symbol next to it. You can also use the words "Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office" to make this designation. Doing so lets the public know that you own the mark in question and have the legal power to use the mark exclusively, register it in foreign countries, and prevent others from infringing on it.

A trademark does not need to be registered to establish ownership. If your mark is not registered or if you've filed an application for registration that has not yet been approved, you can use the TM symbol next to your trademark. You are not required to do so. However, you may want to let potential infringers know that you are claiming ownership of the mark.

If your business sells services instead of products, you can use the SM symbol, which stands for Service Mark. Keep in mind that using these marks provides common law protection for the trademark owner only if another person isn't already using a similar mark in commerce.

Registering your trademark with the USPTO provides more extensive proof of ownership than common law trademark protection. In addition, common law trademarks are only recognized in the state or region where you have used the mark in commerce, while registration protects the mark at the federal level. This may be necessary if your company operates or has customers in other states.

What Is a Copyright?

A copyright is a type of legal protection for works of authorship or creativity. These include but are not limited to:

  • Plays and musicals
  • Songs
  • Books and literary works
  • Architectural designs
  • Software
  • Paintings, sculpture, and other works of art

Unlike patents and trademark protection, copyright protection goes into effect as soon as the work is created and recorded. You can also register with the U.S. Copyright Office for additional legal advantages. You can use the © symbol next to the title to indicate that a work is copyrighted.

If you need help with a patent pending symbol example, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.