What are copyrights and patents and how are they different from trademarks?

Is there a difference between a trademark, a copyright, and a patent? There is. Trademarks, copyrights, and patents are sometimes [incorrectly] referred to interchangeably, but they are not, in fact, created equal. From the United States Patent and Trademark Office: “a patent typically protects inventions, like new engines and solar panels.  A copyright typically protects original artistic and literary works, like songs and movies and books.  Although trademarks, patents, and copyrights can all be used together, the protections they provide are not the same.”

They also have varying lifespans. While patents and copyrights expire after a set number of years, trademark rights come from actual “use,” so a trademark registration can, in theory, last forever – as long as you file specific documents and pay fees at regular intervals.

To recap: if you invented it, you need a patent. If it’s a piece of art your created, you want a copyright. If it’s a brand identifier, you are in trademark territory. Protecting your work in all of these areas is important, so if you’re unsure what sort of federal protection you need, it’s a good idea to consult with an intellectual property lawyer. Like us!

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