What is the difference between trademark, patent and copyright?



Trademarks, patents, and copyrights are different types of intellectual property. The USPTO grants patents and registers trademarks. The U.S. Copyright Office at the Library of Congress registers copyrights.



What’s a Trademark?

A Trademark is a word, phrase, design, or a combination that identifies your goods or services, distinguishes them from the goods or services of others, and indicates the source of your goods or services. An example is Coca-Cola® for soft drinks.


The word “trademark” can refer to both trademarks and service marks. A trademark is used for goods, while a service mark is used for services. A trademark:

  • Identifies the source of your goods or services.

  • Provides legal protection for your brand.

  • Helps you guard against counterfeiting and fraud.


What’s Copyright?

A copyright is a collection of rights automatically vested to you once you have created an original work. To understand how these rights can be used or licensed, it is helpful to analogize them to a bundle of sticks, where each stick represents a separate right vested to you as the owner. These rights include the right to reproduce the work, to prepare derivative works, to distribute copies, to perform the work publicly, and to display the work publicly.


As the copyright owner, you have the authority to keep each “stick,” to transfer them individually to one or more people, or to transfer them collectively to one or more people. This can be accomplished through licensing, assigning, and other forms of transfers. The power of copyright allows you to choose the way your work is made available to the public.



What’s a Patent?

The primary goal of the patent law is to encourage innovation and commercialization of technological advances. Patent law incentivizes inventors to publicly disclose their inventions in exchange for certain exclusive rights. A patent protects inventions. These inventions can include new and useful processes, machines, manufactures, compositions of matter as well as improvements to these.


Certain computer programs may fall within the subject matter protected by both patents and copyrights. In this respect the patent system compliments copyright protection by providing protection for functional aspects of the software, which are not protected by copyright.


Unlike with copyright protection, to get patent protection one must first apply for and be granted a patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Unlike the copyright registration process, the patent application process is expensive, complex, difficult, and time consuming and generally should not be attempted without the assistance of an experienced patent attorney or agent.


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