A U. S. patent for an invention is a grant of a property right by the Government to the inventor, acting through the Patent and Trademark Office. A patent gives the owner "the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling" the invention in the United States or "importing" the invention into the United States. (Learn more at the US Patent and Trademark Office site General Information Concerning Patents.)

Important: a patent does not guarantee success! While it does mean that your invention is different from anything else that has been patented, it does not necessarily mean that your invention is superior; and it in no way assures you that anyone will actually buy your invention if you are able to turn it into a product.

The SBDC can help you on your path from idea to invention; and from product to profitable business.


A copyright protects the writings of an author against copying. Literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works are included within the protection of the copyright law, which in some instances also confers performing and recording rights. The copyright protects the form of expression rather than to the subject matter of the writing. A description of a machine could be copyrighted as a writing, but this would only prevent others from copying the description; it would not prevent others from writing a description of their own or from making and using the machine. Copyrights are registered with the United States Copyright Office.

Trademarks & Servicemarks

A trademark or servicemark relates to any word, name, symbol or device which is used in trade with goods or services to indicate the source or origin of the goods or services and to distinguish them from the goods or services of others. Trademark rights may be used to prevent others from using a confusingly similar mark but not to prevent others from making the same goods or from selling them under a non-confusing mark. Similar rights may be acquired in marks used in the sale or advertising of services (service marks). Trademarks and service marks which are used in interstate or foreign commerce may be registered in the Patent and Trademark Office. More information can be found at the USPTO site: Basic Facts About Trademarks.