Online intellectual property services are popular because so many new entrepreneurs and creators have great ideas—but no idea where to start. It’s easy to get them confused, as there are four different kinds: copyrights, trade secrets, trademarks, and patents. Unfortunately, that confusion nearly doubles regarding patents and trademarks because so many people we work with require both.

Patents and trademarks both have complex application processes and precise criteria. They are very much a race to see who comes up with an idea first, so you have to be proactive. That means working with experienced, talented attorneys who know the ins and outs of the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

The Difference Between Patents and Trademarks

There are four primary categories of intellectual property: trademarks, patents, copyrights, and trade secrets. Both copyrights and trade secrets are automatic, in a way. Copyrights exist the moment you create something. Trade secrets stay secrets as long as you protect them. There are measures to take to enforce both, but once you’ve created something, they exist. As a result, not a lot of online intellectual property services focus on them.

They tend to target trademarks and patents. These require extensive filings and are managed through the same organization: The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

The United States Patent and Trademark Office

The USPTO governs the issuance of patents and trademarks. It’s actually a constitutionally required agency, as it was established to further “the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” The goal behind it was to give people who invent new things some exclusive benefits, hoping that would drive innovation.

And it certainly has. As of 2020, there were 3.34 million active patents in the US and nearly 900,000 registered trademarks. Today, no serious company would bother to create IP without going through the USPTO first. The process is a lot easier when you go informed, and that starts by choosing between their two primary offerings: patents or trademarks.

Patents Versus Trademarks

There is a lot of overlap between patents and trademarks, which can get pretty confusing when determining the right one to pursue. Both protect unique ideas, but for different reasons and in different ways.


A patent gives you the exclusive right to make, sell or use a specific invention or idea. This protection lasts for 20 years in utility patents and 15 years for design. A patentable idea is useful, novel, non-obvious, and not an excluded subject matter.


A patent gives you the exclusive right to make, sell or use a specific invention or idea. This protection lasts for 20 years in utility patents and 15 years for design. A patentable idea is useful, novel, non-obvious, and not an excluded subject matter.

So at the basic level, patents protect new ideas, trademarks protect branded assets. However, the application and review processes for these are very different, so it’s essential to choose the right path.

Do You Need a Patent?

Patents specifically cover new inventions, processes, manufacturing methods, compositions of matter, formulas, or other unique ideas. When you are granted a patent, you will have 15 to 20 years of exclusive use for whatever purpose you desire. You can choose to manufacture the product yourself, license or assign the rights or sell the patent outright.

Before you even start on that, you’ll need to review the four criteria of a patentable idea. They are novelty, utility, subject matter eligibility, and non-obviousness.

If an idea meets the four criteria, then it is patentable. Of course, how successful you are in achieving that goal will depend on the proof you submit. A patent examiner reviews those four criteria in any application submitted. It’s up to them to determine if they meet the standard. As a result, it can get pretty subjective.

What Should You Include in a Patent Application?

A clear, decisive application is the best defense when you’re seeking a patent. It provides objective evidence that the examiner can’t deny. Applications should be:


Patents are often denied on novelty or non-obviousness grounds because of prior art. Prior art is publicly available information that could be used to create your invention. If information in the public domain shows this, you could receive a denial. It’s vital to do a thorough patent and prior art search of all potential conflicts before you complete your application so you can refute them as needed.

Clearly Defined

Subject matter eligible exclusions happen due to abstract ideas or attempts to patent natural law or physical phenomenon. Be very clear in how your device works, and if using natural law or physical phenomenon—like hormones or chemicals—be sure to show how your work redefines it.


It can be challenging to envision the function of a device from words alone when investigating utility. Clear images and diagrams will show how the invention is unique and give a clear picture of its operation.

Of course, all of this is assuming that you need a patent. In your reading, you may have discovered you’re actually trying to protect a brand. For that, you’ll need a trademark.

Do You Need a Trademark?

A trademark will shield your intellectual property in perpetuity as long as you take the appropriate measures. There are two primary criteria to determine if a brand component meets the standard for trademark registration: distinctiveness and use in commerce.


Distinctiveness is similar to the novel component in patents. It needs to be something unique to you. As a result, you can’t use generic names or anything similar to something that already exists in your industry. The key term here is in your industry. You’ll register your trademark for certain classes of goods and services, and it can’t be the same or similar to anyone else in those same categories.

Use in Commerce

To maintain the trademark, you have to use it in interstate commerce. That means including it on products, marketing materials, or anything else that you’d share for trade. You can also file an intent to use application if you have not started using your intellectual property. That will hold your filing date and allow you time to establish your brand.

After your initial acceptance, you’ll have to renew at years five, nine, and then in 10-year increments thereafter. During your renewal, you’ll submit the same information as your initial application, including the goods and services covered, and you may have to include specimens.

What About Global Trademark Protection?

US trademark laws only cover commerce in the US and its territories. Your best bet is looking at something called the Madrid protocol for global protection. It allows you to apply for trademarks in 126 countries simultaneously. The process leverages the information on your initial application to streamline things, so when you’re ready to target a new market, you’re prepared.

Of course, all of this can get very confusing—and expensive. In many cases, inventors need patents and trademarks to protect their ideas and brands. At that point, it’s time to look to online intellectual property services.

Selecting the Right Online Intellectual Property Services

Most intellectual property protections fall under federal law, meaning it affects every state. There are positives and negatives associated with that. You can find an IP lawyer just about anywhere, and many offer entirely virtual services. On the downside, the barrier for entry is all but eliminated online. You could wind up working with someone who does not provide the best returns. When vetting providers, look for the following green flags that indicate excellent service:


Invention is a creative and technical experience. That level of collaboration is needed in the legal relationship as well. A good attorney will give detailed legal opinions and analysis on various options to help you make the right decisions. They will act as your partner as you build your concept.


“Experienced” does not just mean with the law. Instead, it’s about meeting with attorneys who are creators themselves and understand the process. Hands-on knowledge guarantees they’ve dealt with common roadblocks and delays and know how to get around them.


Legal counsel is a big investment and you should know exactly what you’re paying for. Ideally, the attorney will offer an initial consultation where they lay out the expected costs and actions you need to take to reach your goal.


There is a lot more to filing for approval than submitting an application. You’ll need to complete due diligence, search existing databases, maintain your assets, and seek international approval. Ideally, you can work with a firm that will handle the end-to-end process. This is a much more cost-effective option than cobbling together an application using multiple online services.

With these four components, you’re all but guaranteed the best online intellectual property services when seeking a patent or trademark. These two are the most complex when it comes to protecting your rights, so it’s always best to work with experienced professionals. They can help you overcome many hurdles as you work to protect your IP.

Bold Patents offers the best online intellectual property services for patents and trademarks. Reach out to us online or call 800-849-1913 to see how we can help you.