Trademark and patent law lets you benefit from your own great ideas. Claiming a trademark or patent on your product can be thrilling, but the process may leave you with a serious headache. From classifications to applications, filing a claim on your product will take time, patience and careful consideration. To help you get started, here is a guide on how to trademark or patent your product:

Trademark, Patent or Copyright?
These terms are so closely related that they can be confusing, but understanding the distinction is essential to protecting your product. A trademark is a design, made up of a word, phrase, symbol or graphic that distinguishes your business as unique. Consider it the branding mark for a product, much like McDonalds’ golden arches of Nike’s checkmark. A service mark is simply the trademark for services instead of goods, and the word trademark can often take the place of service mark. A patent protects your rights as the owner of an invention, for a limited amount of time. Copyrights extend ownership over authored, creative works, including music, literature and artwork.

Do not infringe on any existing claims
Before you can start placing a trademark or patent on your product, you should find out whether anyone else has already claimed your desired mark or invention. To search through existing trademarks, check out the Trademark Electronic Search System. This database allows you to view registered trademarks and pending applications, to make sure that your mark is clearly distinct. If your trademark is too close to an existing mark, your application may be rejected due to the likelihood of confusion. The USPTO also lets you search for patented inventions through the Patent Full-Text Databases.

Decide whether or not to hire an attorney
The Patent and Trademark Office has in-house attorneys who may be helpful throughout the process, but they cannot give you legal advice. While private attorneys can cost you a pretty penny, they may save you from a lot of hassle.  “It is less expensive to hire a lawyer than to go unprotected or to file incorrectly and potentially wind up with a large legal and business problem as a result. Intellectual property is among the most valuable assets for many businesses,” says Erik Pelton, founder of the boutique trademark law firm, Erik M. Pelton & Associates, PLLC. Reputable attorneys should be familiar with the circuitous patent and trademark laws, which involve both federal and state registrations.

Find the right application
Different kinds of patents require different applications. In order to choose the right application, you should decide whether you are filing a design patent, plant patent or utility patent. Utility patents are the most common, according to the USPTO, as they account for any useful processes, machines and manufactured items. Researchers can also file a utility patent for new composition of matter. For plant and utility patents, you can file either a provisional or non-provisional application. Provisional applications require lower fees and are not examined by the USPTO immediately, but you will have to convert your application or file a corresponding nonprovisional application within one year.

Registering a trademark only requires one type of application, but you do need to identify our mark format. You may wish to file your mark in a standard character format, stylized/design format or as a sound mark. Standard character format simply means you are registering the words, letters and numbers in your mark without claim to any design elements such as font or color.

Prepare your application
Your application will require very specific information regarding your product. For example, you will have to clearly identify your goods or services to register the appropriate trademark, and you must declare whether the trademark is currently in use or intended for future use. You can file trademark applications online through the Trademark Electronic Application System. Patent applications can be found on EFS-Web. Application fees add up, but you can save in certain areas. For example, you will pay a lower fee for filling out a stricter trademark application, known as a TEAS Plus form. Applying for patents online can also save you up to $400 in non-electronic filer fees.