Intellectually Speaking – What’s the Difference Between Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights?
When John & Morgan, P.C. gets calls from people needing help with Intellectual Property (IP) matters, frequently the person knows they need help but not what kind of help they need. I will attempt to break down the three main types of IP matters.
Roughly speaking, Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights are all types of legal protections for intellectual property, but they protect different types of things and provide different types of legal rights. In the United States, all three types of IP are protected at the Federal level by the United States Patent & Trademark Office Here are some of the key differences between them:
- Patents: Patents protect inventions and new technologies. They give the inventor the exclusive right to make, use, and sell their invention for a set period of time (usually 20 years from the date of filing the patent). This means that no one else can make, use, or sell the invention without the inventor’s permission. A patent does not necessarily have to be a physical invention but can be a process or system. As explained in our previous post: A Shallow Dive into Murky Software Patent Waters, a patent can even be for software.
- Trademarks: Trademarks protect brand names, logos, and other symbols used to identify and distinguish goods or services in the marketplace. They give the owner the exclusive right to use the trademark in connection with the goods or services for which it is registered. Trademarks don’t expire as long as they continue to be used and renewed according to the law. A key point to remember is that Trademark is for just that: “Trade” If you cannot show that you are using the name or logo in commerce then you cannot get trademark protection.
- Copyrights: Copyrights protect original creative works, such as books, music, movies, and software. They give the creator the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, and display their work for a set period of time (usually the life of the creator plus 70 years after their death). This means that no one else can copy, distribute, or display the work without the creator’s permission. There are some exceptions to this protection: In the United States, Fair Use allows limited use of the protected work for various purposes that can include criticisms, parody, and news reporting. What is considered Fair Use is a complex matter better left to its own article.
In summary, patents protect inventions, trademarks protect brand names and logos, and copyrights protect creative works. Each type of protection provides the owner with exclusive rights to use and profit from their intellectual property for a limited time period.
JOHN AND MORGAN is a versatile law firm that handles Intellectual Property work such as Patents, Trademark, and Copy. We also do Family Law cases such as Divorce, Child Support, and Child Custody. We also do Wills and Estate Planning.
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