Talking Trademarks, Patents and Copyrights

copyright-15182_1280Recently, I had the privileged of having a “casual conversation” with Attorney Renee Duff. Renee is an attorney that has over 25 years’ experience, managing intellectual property assets for businesses, law firms and in-house perspectives. Since this is not an area of law that I’ve ever practiced, Ms. Duff was able to school me on exactly what she does.

Intellectual property covers a few different areas. Mainly it’s trademarks, copyrights, patents and trade secrets.  These are the main four that people know about and each one has its own specialty. Renee does mostly trademark work and a little bit of copyright, but she explained that patent law requires a background in science in order to practice before the patent office .  Trademarks, copyrights and patents tend to be most interchangeable to people who don’t know anything about the specifics. Let’s take a closer look at the two most common.


Trademarks are really your brands. It’s the designator of the source of your goods or your services. So the lay term would be your brand name.  Starbucks, McDonalds, Gucci, all of those are trademarks that are very valuable to the company.



A copyright  is drafting an artistic usually- (but it doesn’t have to be,)  expression into a tangible form. So if you’ve written a book, if you’ve written a screenplay, you shot a movie etc. all of these things would fall under the copyright realm.


Small businesses can benefit from both trademarks and copyrights.

Over the past five years or so, trademarks have become very, very important to small businesses because of the explosion of  social media, platforms . There may be times when someone has created a Facebook page, or a Twitter handle, or an Instagram account, and they’re using your brand name or your company name that you offer your services under; if you have a trademark, a registered trademark, that makes it so easy to try to go to any one of those platforms and say, “Look, it’s trading off of my good will, my business,” and  they’ll help you out a lot faster if you have that registered trademark. So it has become a great tool for small businesses to stop some of that type of infringement.

Most businesses probably do have both trademarks and copyrights. You can use both of those types of intellectual property protection to sort of layer the protection, because each one will provide you with different ways to defend against infringements and various other things that you might need to do within your business.


A few things to consider.

  • File your trademark and copyright paperwork with an experienced attorney.  Online services and even making it a DIY project may seem quick and easy but having proper legal advice is the best route to take.  An experienced attorney can help you through the uncertainty of all the boxes that need to be checked and you would receive advice from someone who has experience filing these documents and defending them.
  • Renee dispels the eternal “mail it to myself and it’s copy-written” myth by sharing that  in order to actually get registration protection, you have to file your music, book, screenplay or idea with the copyright office.
  • Trademark rights are all based on use, and so if you are using and continue to use a trademark, then that trademark and that brand can last, 100 years, 200 years, or however long you continue to market goods or services under that particular name. When you register a trademark though, there are a couple points in time that you have to show continued use to the trademark office. Somewhere between the fifth and the sixth year, then between the ninth and the tenth year, and then after that it’s just every ten years for a trademark.
  • Copyright on the other hand, last for a very long time, but they will eventually expire. So usually depending on the type of copyright and the type of rights that you’re getting, it’s the life of the author. So as long as you’re alive, and then plus 70, 90, 120 years depending on various laws depending on what the actual item is that you’re protecting. Like Paul McCartney  of the Beatles.  As long as you’re alive, the copyright is yours.
  • Do your research. Be certain to search for any potential conflict before you go spending a lot of money on designs and this and that. THEN start to fall in love with the name.  Renee describes how she would always feel terrible when she has to tell people, “You know what? Yeah, that name is going to get you in a lot of trouble or a lot of problems that you could avoid and probably don’t want to have to deal with as a new business.” So before you go spending money, make sure that the name that you intend to use is really not going to cause you more problems and headaches than you need.

You may reach out to Renee Duff at:





Renee Duff PC. 

 (914) 723-7418.


This is a transcript of a recorded live presentation. It is in spoken-word format. While we have cleaned up the transcript a bit for easier reading, it’s not in edited written-word format. – See more at:

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