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What Are The Differences Between A Copyright, Trademark, And Patent?

All copyrights, trademarks, and patents are forms of intellectual property, which itself can be defined as “intangible assets used in commerce and everyday life.” They include but are not limited to inventions, literary works, artistic works, designs, symbols, names, and/or images. The main difference comes from the fact that although all three offer protection of intellectual property rights, they each protect different types of assets and, as such, have different registration requirements. This article will describe each form of intellectual property in turn and will also elaborate on what each type protects.

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A copyright is a collection of rights that are automatically vested to a person once they have completed an original work. A good analogy that is often used to describe copyrights is the bundle of sticks analogy. Here, each stick represents a separate right that is vested to the owner. Such an owner will have the authority to keep each stick, or right, and transfer them either individually or collectively. The way these rights are transferred will ultimately determine the nature of the rights themselves. Two of the most common methods are licensing and assigning.

What Does A Copyright Protect?

The list of intellectual properties that a copyright protects is quite broad, and therefore the entire list cannot be enumerated here. However, the most common works protected include poetry, novels, art, research, movies, songs, computer software and architecture.

Essentially, as long as the original work is preserved in some form, it will be protected under copyright law. It is important to remember that are some works that CAN NOT be copyrighted. Some of these include ideas, discovery, principles, a listing of ingredients, and works that are considered “common property.” It is also important to note that works that are in the public domain, meaning works for which the copyright has expired, been forfeited, or waived, cannot be copyrighted again.

There are certain methods commonly employed to protect a copyright. (1) An owner can make sure their work is properly marked by adding either a sign or watermark. (2) Another method is called a poor man’s copyright. This is the practice of the owner sending their work to themselves, thereby proving that the work has been in the owner’s possession for a period of time.

What Is A Patent, And What Does It Protect?

A patent essentially protects inventions. These inventions include a broad list of things, however, more commonly than not, they include new processes, machines, manufactured items, and unique compositions of matter. It is important to note that, unlike copyright protection, obtaining patent protection involves the application and granting of a patent from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). This Office is an agency of the US Department of Commerce, and its role is to grant patents for the protection of inventions and to register trademarks. Essentially, the USPTO examines applications and grants patents on inventions when applicants are entitled to them.

What Is A Trademark?

A trademark, as defined by the USPTO, is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. There is also a parallel legal concept called a service mark, which is a word, phrase, symbol and/or design that distinguishes the source of goods.

A trademark is similar to a copyright in that one does not need to register a trademark/service mark in order to protect those rights. However, most people do end up registering their trademarks. This is because there are certain legal benefits afforded with registration. It is also important to note that, although rare, there are times when copyright law and trademark law will overlap in their applications, leading to disputes.

What Does A Trademark Protect?

A trademark applies to anything that brands a business. In other words, it identifies a product/company in the marketplace. Essentially, a trademark protects the following items: brand names, logos, business names, and slogans. Two very common examples would be the McDonald’s golden arches or the Nike swoosh.

As stated above, there is a difference between a trademark and a service mark, and it is important to distinguish between the two. A good example of the difference between a trademark and a service mark is seen in the slogan “Fly the Friendly Skies.” In this example, the name “United Airlines” will be trademarked. However, the slogan mentioned above will be service marked because it defines the service that the company provides. Distinguishing between these two can sometimes be a complicated endeavor and is not always clear-cut. Therefore, a professional should be employed to help understand which type of mark is appropriate for the business.

Another very important point to mention is that where copyrights expire after a set period of time, trademarks do not expire. This is because trademarks come from actual use, which means that the trademark can last forever as long as it is continued to be used.

Just as with copyrights, there are certain methods employed to protect a trademark. Probably the most important way involves completing a trademark search. In this way, a trademark attorney can assist in the trademark registration process. Another method that is commonly employed involves registering a business name with a specific state.

The Difference Between A Copyright, Trademark, And Patent

Overall, although all the three methods described above protect intellectual property rights, each protects unique rights and has its own registration and application processes. Therefore, when starting a company, it is crucial to distinguish between the three and apply for the appropriate rights depending on the nature of the business.

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Legal Favor

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