Saturday, January 24, 2009

Patent, Copyright and Trademark Resources: Free!

by Katy Brown of muchacha K handmade

It is important for creative people to know where to find the resources they may need to protect their intellectual property. Intellectual whaaaaa? Intellectual property. Our ideas, processes, and creations are all examples of intellectual property and that is the name of the area of law that deals with those types of issues. Most of us cannot afford to pay an intellectual property attorney to help us protect any protectable work though--so it’s important for us to know how to find the basic information we might need to get our brains wrapped around the options that may be available to us. Fortunately, the government provides a lot of free information, online, about these issues.

The three main types of Intellectual Property we are used to hearing about, and that would be most likely to affect our art and handcrafts are Trademarks, Copyrights, and Patents. There is a LOT of outdated information that circulates about what these are and what they mean. It is important not to just assume that what someone told you is correct. One example is the rumor that if you “mail something to yourself” it’s protected under copyright law. That may not necessarily be true—and the only way to find out, is to do the research to get the correct information. There may be some good books out there but my focus here is the free information that is available, because there's a lot of good self-education material available from these sources. You may also try using some of the government resources below, formulating questions, and then seeing if you can find an IP attorney that is willing to give a free short consultation so you can determine if you need more help and clarify some simple questions. Always make sure however, when communicating with a law office, to determine up front if there are any fees involved in any consultation.

Here is the link to the US Government’s Patent and Trademark Office (, which oversees trademarks, patents, and copyrights. The federal government and its processes are the origin of these laws, so why not go to the source.

When you go to that page, you will see on the left hand side, links to many specific titles including:

There is basic and FAQ information for each of these sections if you explore the links, in addition to more specific legal information, forms, and filing fee information.

And here is the link to the US Copyright Office, which also has a handy FAQ section you should explore: US Copyright Office

Some types of ideas and creations are simply not protectable, but you won’t know if yours are, unless you look into it and it’s better to find out now, than be sorry you didn’t find out later.

(In addition to making and selling handbags through muchacha K handmade, Katy Brown is a graduate student in Library and Information Science, with her focus in law librarianship. In other words…she’s wicked good at finding information, and is happy to help point you in the right direction if you’re trying to find information about pretty much anything, but especially legal issues...)


  1. Thanks, Katy, for the great information and links. It's such a complicated issue with a lot of gray areas.

    Protecting our intellectual property will become even more important with the Orphan Works bill, that makes it easier than ever for mass producers to plagiarize our work.


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