Patents, Copyrights and Trademarks

Mans hand signing papers involving patents, copyrights, and trademarks

Navigating patents, copyrights, and trademarks can be complex. We have compiled this quick overview for inventors to better understand the process. We are here to help, so, if you are a Brandeis inventor and have any questions, please contact us. For more detailed information, refer to the Inventor's Guide to Technology Transfer.

Patents: A Quick Definition
  • A patent is a monopoly, granted by the government, allowing you to exclude others from “making, using, selling or importing” your invention for 20 years. 

  • Patents are limited by territory. A U.S. patent only protects your invention in the United States, a French patent in France, and so on; inventors often need to patent their inventions in multiple locations for effective patent protection.

  • Every country has its own patent laws and pattern of patent enforcement.

  • Patent law came about because the government wanted to encourage dissemination of information, and did so by granting limited-term monopolies to inventors in exchange for the sharing of information.

  • Patent law is part of the U.S. Constitution.

Types of Patents

There are three types of patents granted in the US: utility, design, and plant. They apply to different types of inventions, as follows: 

Utility Patent: A utility patent applies covers physical products or processes for creating or doing something. Utility patents can be for a:
  • Machine — such as a robot, motor, or circuit

  • Process — such as a method of manufacturing

  • Article of manufacture — such as a frying pan or hair comb

  • Composition of matter — such as a newly-developed chemical compound

Design Patent: A design patent covers the appearance, ornamental or industrial design of a functional product. Examples include:
  • A specific color and shape for a cellphone or handbag

  • The specific arrangement of buttons on a device, when they are special for esthetic and not functional reasons

Plant Patent — A plant patent covers any new and distinct variety of plant. They can be hybrid plants or genetically modifed organisms. 
Types of Patentable Inventions
The US Patent Office has strict guidelines on what can be patented. Not every new idea can be patented. However, it's always worth contacting us at OTL to see if you have an idea that is eligible for a patent. 
The requirements for a patentable idea are that it has to be:
  • Novel (that is, no one, even yourself, has published it before).

  • Non-obvious (that is, to someone skilled in your field).

  • Useful (you must have a use for your invention).

Whether something is patentable or not is a complex issue. Please contact us to discuss, with one of our experts, any new discoveries.
The Patenting Process

It can take many years to get a patent granted from the patent office. Here is a brief description of the process in the United States:

  • First, your patent application is prepared and filed. We will work with you and file for you.

  • At that stage, your invention becomes Patent Pending. While this does not offer legal protection yet, it's important to note, on any invention, that it's Patent Pending, thus alerting stakeholders that we have applied for patent protection.

  • The US Patent Office will respond to the application with whether your invention is eligible, in what is know as an "office action." This response will typically include limitations on the patent, including industries and uses.

  • We then reply to the Patent Office. 

  • This process is iterative, and we will typically have several cycles before the full extent of the patent is established.

  • The patent application is then published. This normally takes place 18 months after the initial filing.

  • The patent is then Allowed, which means that the US Patent Office examiner has found that it meets all eligibility requirements.

  • The patent is then issued, and full legal protection for the invention begins. 

  • Finally, the patent is printed.

On Teams, Who Qualifies as the Inventor of a Discovery?

Inventorship is decided according to patent law. To be an inventor, you must make a novel, useful and non-obvious contribution to at least one claim of the patent. Sharing materials or testing an invention is not sufficient to make someone an inventor. 

Correct inventorship is important. Incorrect inventorship can lead to invalidation of a patent. The Office of Technology Licensing can help you figure out who is, and who is not, an inventor.

How Does Publication Affect Patent Rights?

In most of the world, all patent rights will be lost if an invention is published before a patent application is filed. In the United States, you can file a patent up to one year after a public disclosure.

What Qualifies As "Public Disclosure"?

A public disclosure is a disclosure of enough of an invention, that someone knowledgeable in the field, can re-create the whole invention. This is called an “enabling” invention. Disclosure can include a journal publication, a Web publication and may include abstracts, posters and public talks. Federal grants are not considered public disclosure until they are funded, at which point the may become publicly available. Be aware of early Web publication of journal articles and conference abstracts.

What Is a "Confidentiality" or "Nondisclosure Agreement," and Why Is It Necessary?

A confidentiality or nondisclosure agreement is an agreement in which two parties agree to keep certain information “confidential” and not to disclose it to third parties. If you wish to speak to a company about your invention prior to filing a patent, we recommend doing so under a confidentiality or nondisclosure agreement to preserve the university's right to file a patent. The Office of Technology Licensing can provide sample agreements or negotiate the agreements with companies.

How Much Does It Cost to Get a Patent?
  • To file a U.S. patent application: approximately $10,000

  • To complete the process, what is called to "prosecute to issuance" in the United States: approximately $20,000

  • To file a foreign (PCT) application: approximately $5,000

  • For life of foreign patents (in Europe, Canada and Japan): approximately $200,000

What Is a Copyright?
  • A copyright is a form of legal protection, separate from a patent, that protects original works, fixed in a tangible medium, such as

    • Written words

    • Computer code

    • Mask works

    • Design schematics

    • Architectural drawings

    • Musical works

    • Choreography

  • Copyright gives owners the exclusive right to:It's important to remember that copyright protects expression of ideas, not ideas themselves.

    • Reproduce the copyrighted works
    • Create derivatives works, such as a play based on a novel
    • Distribute the works (such make copies, online or in a tangible medium, and/or sell the items)
    • Perform the works, in the case of choreography or music
    • Display the items

Copyright lasts for 100 years from creation or 75 years from publication. Protection is automatic, but you must register to sue infringers.

What Is a Trademark?
  • A trademark is a symbol, design, word, slogan, combination of words and pictures used to identify products and distinguish them from those of competitors (e.g., Coca-Cola slogan is words, design and colors).

  • To ensure legal protection, you must actively protect it.

  • A trademark must be different than generic product (e.g., Rollerblades vs. in-line skates).

For additional information on patents and related topics, please visit the following Web sites: