International Intellectual Property > STOP! > Frequently Asked Questions

How does the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) help innovators stop fakes?

The USPTO leads efforts to develop and strengthen both domestic and international intellectual property protection and advises the Secretary of Commerce, the President of the United States, and the Administration on patent, trademark, and copyright protection.


  • examines and grants patents;
  • examines and registers trademarks;
  • provides the public with a consolidated source of information about international intellectual property protection organizations on their International Intellectual Property webpage;
  • is an active participant in the International Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Training Database effort hosted by the Department of State that is used to provide training and technical assistance relating to protecting IPR. The USPTO also provides training to customs officers from other countries on techniques that can be used to detect potential IPR violations;
  • provides support for international treaty negotiations, and represents United States interests regarding intellectual property rights.
  • provides an attorney-advisor from their Office of Enforcement to serve as an international intellectual property attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China.
What is intellectual property? The term intellectual property refers to creations of the mind - creative works or ideas embodied in a form that can be shared or can enable others to recreate, emulate, or manufacture them. There are four ways to protect intellectual property - patents, trademarks, copyrights or trade secrets
What is a copyright? A Copyright is a form of protection provided to the authors of “original works of authorship” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works, both published and unpublished. The 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to reproduce the copyrighted work, to prepare derivative works, to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work, to perform the copyrighted work publicly, or to display the copyrighted work publicly.

A copyright protects the form of expression rather than the subject matter of the writing. For example, a description of a machine could be copyrighted, but this would only prevent others from copying the description; it would not prevent others from writing a description of their own or from making and using the machine. Copyrights are registered by the Library of Congress' Copyright Office.

There are times when you may desire a combination of copyright, patent and trademark protection for your work. You should consult an attorney to determine what forms of intellectual property protection are best suited to your needs.

What is a patent?

A patent is a property right granted by the Government of the United States of America to an inventor “to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States” for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted.

Patents are granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

There are times when you may desire a combination of copyright, patent and trademark protection for your work. You should consult an attorney to determine what forms of intellectual property protection are best suited to your needs.

Can I obtain international patent protection for my invention?

Since the rights granted by a U.S. patent extend only throughout the territory of the United States and have no effect in a foreign country, an inventor who wishes patent protection in other countries must apply for a patent in each of the other countries or in regional patent offices. Almost every country has its own patent law, and a person desiring a patent in a particular country must make an application for patent in that country, in accordance with the requirements of that country. There are two treaties that provide for international protection.

One is the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property which governs 140 participating countries, including the United States. It provides that each member country guarantees to the citizens of the other countries the same rights in patent and trademark matters that it gives to its own citizens. The treaty also provides for the right of priority in the case of patents, trademarks and industrial designs (design patents). This right means that, on the basis of a regular first application filed in one of the member countries, the applicant may, within a certain period of time, apply for protection in all the other member countries. These later applications will then be regarded as if they had been filed on the same day as the first application. Thus, these later applicants will have priority over applications for the same invention that may have been filed during the same period of time by other persons. Moreover, these later applications, being based on the first application, will not be invalidated by any acts accomplished in the interval, such as, for example, publication or exploitation of the invention, the sale of copies of the design, or use of the trademark. The period of time mentioned above, within which the subsequent applications may be filed in the other countries, is 12 months in the case of first applications for patent and six months in the case of industrial designs and trademarks.

The United States is also a participant in the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) which governs over 100 member countries. The PCT provides a centralized, standardized application process for filing a single application that can result in patent protection in any number of designated member countries. The timely filing of an international application affords applicants an international filing date in each country which is designated in the international application and provides (1) a search of the invention and (2) a later time period within which the national applications for patent must be filed. A number of U. S. patent attorneys specialize in obtaining patents in foreign countries.

Under U.S. law it is necessary, in the case of inventions made in the United States, to obtain a license from the Director of the USPTO before applying for a patent in a foreign country. Such a license is required if the foreign application is to be filed before an application is filed in the United States or before the expiration of six months from the filing of an application in the United States unless a filing receipt with a license grant issued earlier. The filing of an application for patent constitutes the request for a license and the granting or denial of such request is indicated in the filing receipt mailed to each applicant. After six months from the U.S. filing, a license is not required unless the invention has been ordered to be kept secret. If the invention has been ordered to be kept secret, the consent to the filing abroad must be obtained from the Director of the USPTO during the period the order of secrecy is in effect.

The USPTO is the National Office for the United States and acts in the following capacities provided for under the PCT - Receiving Office, International Searching Authority, International Preliminary Examining Authority, and Designated/Elected Office.

Learn more about the Patent Cooperation Treaty and the USPTO.

What is a trademark?

Trademarks protect words, names, symbols, sounds, or colors that distinguish goods and services from those manufactured or sold by others and to indicate the source of the goods. Trademarks, unlike patents, can be renewed forever as long as they are being used in commerce.

Trademarks are registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

Federal trademark registration has several benefits:

  • Constructive notice nationwide of the trademark owner's claim.
  • Evidence of ownership of the trademark.
  • Jurisdiction of federal courts may be invoked.
  • Registration can be used as a basis for obtaining registration in foreign countries.
  • Registration may be filed with DHS' Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (BCBP) to prevent importation of infringing foreign goods.

There are times when you may desire a combination of copyright, patent and trademark protection for your work. You should consult an attorney to determine what forms of intellectual property protection are best suited to your needs.

What does registering a trademark have to do with STOP!? When you register a trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), this information can be filed with DHS' Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (BCBP) to prevent importation of infringing foreign goods.
Is there such a thing as an international trademark?

No. But you can obtain trademark protection in a number of countries by filing a single "international application" under the Madrid Protocol.

The "Protocol Relating to the Madrid Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Marks " (Madrid Protocol) is an international treaty that allows a trademark owner to seek registration in any of the countries that have joined the Madrid Protocol by filing a single application, called an "international application." The International Bureau of the World Property Intellectual Organization, in Geneva, Switzerland administers the international registration system.

You can apply for one online by using the USPTO's electronic Madrid Protocol forms.

Learn more about the Madrid Protocol from the USPTO.

What is a trade secret? A trade secret is information that companies keep secret to give them an advantage over their competitors. No mechanism exists to federally record or register a trade secret.

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