Trademarks, Copyright, and Patents: What’s the Difference?

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Considering the complexity of intellectual property law, it is understandable that many individuals like artists, authors, bloggers, journalist, etc. are likely to confuse the terms Patent, Copyright, and Trademark. Often you may hear them speak of “patenting a book” or “copywriting a new gadget” These are legal terms that are on occasion confused by a lot of people. In this post you will get to know the difference between:

•    Patent

•    Copyright

•    Trademark


So What is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual property is the ownership of tangible and non-physical goods. Since Intellectual property is intangible, then it becomes a lot more difficult to protect it as compared to other kinds of property.

A simpler definition of intellectual property is something that is created by an individual's or professional's mind. However, intellectual property does not protect the bare ideas; rather it is basically the expression or the symbolic power/recognizability of the ideas that have been protected.

The intellectual property, in this case, is the design of a car that is patented but not the idea of the car itself. It can be the painting of a beautiful house that is copyrighted but not the idea of the house. The intellectual property is the consumer recognizable logo that has been trademarked but not the idea of the logo. Therefore, the intellectual property only protects how we can express and identify ideas in concrete ways, but not the idea itself.


What is a Trademark?

A trademark is a device, a symbol, a name that is used in trade with goods to indicate the source of the particular product or service that will distinguish it from the goods and services of others. The trademark rights that are offered to a company may be used to prevent other businesses from making the same goods or rather from selling the same goods or services under a clearly different mark.

The trademarks protect any symbol that shows or indicates the source of the origin. While the trademark of a particular company may be very important to the owner of the company, it's ultimate purpose is to protect the consumer, by informing them the origin of the product.


What is Copyright?

The copyright can protect the specific creative expression of an idea that can be through any medium of artistic or creative expression. Examples can be paintings, writings, sculptures, photographs, software, etc. It is generally a form of protection that is offered to the authors of original works of the authorship.

The law gives the original owner the right to reproduce the copyrighted work; that can be both published and unpublished. The copyright will protect the form of expression rather than the subject matter of the writing.

That is why the description of a car can be copyrighted, but this, however, will not stop others from writing a description of their own or from making and using the car. Copyrights are usually registered by the copyright office of the Library of Congress.


What is a Patent?

A patent for a specific invention is the grant of a property right to the individual inventor that is usually issued by the Patent and Trademark Office.  The patents purpose is to protect the functional expressions of the idea and not the idea itself.

A machine's method, composition, and manufacture may all be patented. Therefore, an engineer can patent the design of a nozzle on a spacecraft or the method used in making the spacecraft, etc. However, you cannot patent the broad idea of the spacecraft.

To be specific, the right that is conferred by the patent grant is the language of the statute and the grant itself. This is the right that excludes others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention in the United States.


What You Need to know

You need to note that each of the categories is distinct, a product may at times fall into one or more of the categories. A good example is of a software that is covered by both the patent  and copyright. Where the copyright will protect the artistic expression of the idea, this is the code itself, while the patent would protect the functional expression of the idea of the software.

Therefore, before you set out to copyright, trademark or patent anything, make sure you get legal advice from a qualified lawyer who will assist you in processing your product or services within the illustrated categories.


Mollaei Law is a law firm specializing in business law serving businesses and entrepreneurs. We provide legal expertise in all stages of business development by drafting and reviewing contracts and agreements, assisting transactions and negotiating, forming LLC's and Corporations, registering trademarks and copyrights, business planning, and answering any legal questions you may have about your business.

Sam Mollaei, Esq., business lawyer, can be reached by email or via phone (818) 925-0002.