The Difference Between Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights

The Difference Between Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights

You have a new concept that you want to protect, but you are not sure if it qualifies as a patent, trademark, or copyright.

All three provide legal protection, but there are some key differences. Before you take your concept to the market, you must ensure you have the right legal protection. Understanding the differences between patent, trademark, and copyright can help you make an informed decision on which is the right legal protection for your product, invention, or concept. 

Patent Protects New Inventions, Compositions, Or Processes 

A patent is a type of license provided by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) that provides the patent holder the right to use, make, or sell their invention for a specific period of time. The legal protection offered by a patent helps encourage companies and individuals to continue developing innovative products without worrying about competition, at least for the duration of the patent period. 

There are three types of patents: utility, design, and plant. A utility patent is used to protect an invention of a new product or an improvement of an existing product, machine, or process. If you have a utility patent on your invention, others are barred from making, selling, or using the invention without your consent. 

A design patent applies to the appearance or aesthetics of a manufactured item. This includes the ornamental or artistic design of the item. A planet patent protects the new and unique characteristics of a plant. 

Trademarks Protect Brand Identity 

Unlike patents, trademarks are designed to protect design elements, such as logos or words, that identify the source, seller, or manufacturer of the product. Corporate logos or company brand names are examples of trademarks. 

While trademarks protect the specific design elements, it goes a little further by barring other companies from using any marks or logos that could confuse with the existing one. This means that competitors can’t just make subtle changes to the logo and use that for their products or services. If the mark looks or sounds like another company’s trademarked logo or brand name, competitors can’t use it. 

Copyright Protects Creatives 

Copyright protects writings, music, art, architecture, or other original works of authorship. The original creator has the exclusive right to share, display, or perform the item. They also have the right to license the item to others. 

A key exception in copyright is the “fair use” doctrine, which allows other companies some flexibility in the distribution of the copyrighted item. For example, if you develop a new app based on your creative concept, others have some freedom to develop their iteration of it.  

While you automatically get some legal protection by translating your creative concept or item to a tangible form, such as a book or drawing, getting a copyright offers extra protection. With copyright, it is easier to establish that you are the original author or creator of the work. 

Consult with an Intellectual Property Lawyer

While there is a clear distinction between a patent, trademark, and copyright, the process of acquiring protection is often complicated. You can use the services of an experienced intellectual property lawyer to help you in different aspects of acquiring legal protection. 

The lawyer can help you determine the right types of protection for your invention or concept, and they can assist in completing the process required to patent, trademark, or copyright it. 

If there has been an infringement on your intellectual property, the attorney can help determine the value of the damages, draft legal documents, and negotiate settlements with the opposing party. Determining the appropriate value of the infringement is key to your case as it ensures you get full and fair compensation for your damages.  

The lawyer can also handle communication with the opposing party and manage all the legal paperwork required for the case. Some intellectual property law firms also offer other services, such as domain escrow services and business litigation. 

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