It's disheartening to work so hard to bring your best business idea to life only to have it snatched away with no way of proving that it was your idea first or that you have legal right to it. The best protection for your business ideas is to register them. Depending on the idea, invention or even your company image, often referred to an intellectual property, you need to file a legal form to apply for a patent, trademark or copyright. Here is a quick rundown of each of these terms and the legal protection each affords.

Patents protect your inventions from being produced and sold by another. However, you don't have to have the final product, or even a working prototype, in order to have a patent. You can patent the idea itself so you don't have to risk someone else beating you to the final, completed product. If you have an idea and want to make sure it hasn't already been patented, you can search the files of patented ideas on the United State Patent and Trademark Office.

Trademarks are used to protect anything that is used to identify your particular business and its products. For example, the bitten apple is used and is internationally known as not only for the company, Apple Inc., but as the quick, identifying symbol of any Macintosh, or Mac, product. The Coca-Cola name is also protected as a trademark. The company name itself not only creates its overall business image but also denotes services and products sold by Coca-Cola. Service marks are the same as a trademark with one difference. While trademarks identify a product, service marks identify a service. An example would be PayPal. This company offers a unique service, transferring funds from one business or individual to another, even across international lines. While this isn't a physical product, it is still entitled to the same protections as businesses that sell a tangible items.

Copyrights are another way to protect your intellectual property. This registration protects visual art projects. These include books, screenplays, photography and musical scores. Other properties that are protected under copyrights include some website content, sound recordings and architectural works. There is a list of items that cannot be copyrighted. These include names, catchwords and recipes.

Finding a good online business legal forms program is an easy way to get started and, usually, file on your own. Even if you feel more comfortable having an attorney help you, starting the process by printing and filling out the legal forms helps save you time and money while protecting your business assets.

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