September 3, 2018
10 Things

10 things I know about … Protecting business IP

Ping Hu, a partner in the intellectual property group at Worcester law firm Mirick O'Connell

10) There are different types of IP. There are patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Each type applies to some situations, but not others. Choosing the right type of protection is critical.

9) Trademark rights can be federal, state or both. A federal trademark registration can protect you throughout the U.S. A state trademark registration is only good in that particular state. Even if you don't have any trademark registrations, you may still have trademark rights under common law.

8) TM v. . You can use the symbol next to a mark only if you have been granted a federal trademark registration. You can use TM for any unregistered trademarks.

7) Trademark rights arise from use. If you use a mark properly, you have trademark rights. If you stop using the mark, you may lose your trademark rights.

6) Copyrights are generated automatically. Once your expression of idea is affixed on a tangible medium (e.g., paper, hard drive, phone memory, etc.), you have copyright protection. To enforce your copyright, you will still need a registration.

5) Patent rights are exclusively federal and based on an issued patent. You will need to file a patent application to U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. There is no Massachusetts or any other state patent.

4) Be careful of disclosure of the invention. File for patent protection before disclosing the invention publicly. Otherwise, you may lose your patent rights forever.

3) Trade secrets include a broad range of information. Almost anything commercially valuable can be a trade secret if you use reasonable effort to protect it. But it does not prevent others from obtaining it independently (e.g., via reverse engineering).

2) IP rights are generally territorial. A U.S. patent only protects you in the U.S. If you want international protection, you will need to apply in foreign countries.

1) IP is everywhere. Chances are your business owns IP. So, protect and utilize what's yours.

Ping Hu is a partner in the intellectual property group at Worcester law firm Mirick O'Connell. Reach him at


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