What’s The Difference: Trademark, Copyright, Patent?


Patents, copyrights and trademarks provide protection for owners of intellectual property.  As our world becomes more digital and informational, we place greater value on our ideas and intellectual property.  We see brick and mortar operations evolving into e-commerce endeavors.  Though it is wise to pursue intellectual property protection quickly, you shouldn’t rush to apply for protection without a basic understanding of the different types of protection, and what they cover. This is because each one protects a different aspect of your business.

Protection defined

A patent protects an invention and innovations.  Patentable materials include machines, manufactured articles, industrial processes, and chemical compositions.  Owning a patent ensures your invention, idea, method, or engineering process cannot be copied, produced, or sold without your authorization. Patent protection can last from 14 years up to 20 years. Visit the USPTO (U.S. Patent & Trademark Office) for more information on applying for a patent.

A copyright protects original artistic and literary works like songs, books, movies, scripts, etc. from unlawful reproduction.  Having a copyright, for example, ensures the publishing company interested in your self-published book has to either license or purchase the rights to produce that work before they can.  Copyright protection can last up to 70, 95, or 120 years, depending on how it is filed. Visit the U.S. Copyright Office (a department of the Library of Congress) for more information on securing a copyright.

A trademark is a slogan, phrase, symbol (logo), or design that identifies the source of goods and services from one owner and distinguishes such goods and services from another owner (or seller).  Anyone who uses a registered trademark belonging to another entity may be in danger of trademark infringement.  Unlike the other two types of intellectual property protection, trademarks do not expire after a certain term.  Therefore a trademark can last forever. Visit the USPTO (U.S. Patent & Trademark Office) for more information or to apply for a trademark.

How to use them

Now that you know what they do to protect your ideas, let’s look at an example in practice.  Let’s imagine you created a new utensil that keeps the food you are eating hot or cold, at the push of a single button.  You would use these three forms of intellectual property protection like this:

  • You would get a patent to protect the invention itself
  • You would register the trademark for the brand name (i.e. Temp o’ Fork logo or slogan) or for your invention
  • You would apply for a copyright to protect the commercial you produce to market your new invention

One thing that you should know is that when you register a patent, trademark, or copyright, it gives you federal protection.  That means your rights are protected throughout the United States.  This is in contrast to registering your business in a particular state.

What they’re not

Domain names

I’m sure many of you already know that a domain name is different from a domain name.  Few know how many people are genuinely confused when mentioning trademarks and domain names.  A domain name is, first registered through an online company like 1and1.com or godaddy.com. Copyrights, Trademarks, and Patents are registered with the Federal Government.


Business names

As we mentioned earlier, your intellectual property protection only protects your idea, invention, artistic work or brand.  A business name only secures the right to do business and have a bank account (among other rights) under a name that is not your own.  You register your business with the state you intend to do business in.


Enforcers of your rights

I know it might sound silly but trademarks, copyrights, and patents only protect your intellectual property.  They do not enforce your rights.  There is a huge difference.  The protection offers you the right to no one reproducing your work or idea.  You, as the owner, are responsible for enforcing (or hiring a firm to enforce) your rights.  Bottom line:  You have to monitor and engage any threat to your copyright, patent, or trademark once you spot them.


When you have something that is going to change the game, it will be valuable.  Anything valuable will be in demand.  Anything in demand needs to be protected.  Securing protection for you intellectual property is not only a good idea for your business, but it also ensures you have peace of mind while sharing your brilliant ideas with humanity.

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