Not Sure About the Differences Surrounding Trademark, Copyright and Patent Laws? Here are the Basics
In the United States and throughout the world, creators, inventors and other innovators can have receive intellectual property protection thanks to trademark, copyright and patent laws. Intellectual property rights can deal with a variety of different creations, from new and exciting inventions to a book or a piece of artwork. Even brand names, logos and the names of products can receive protection from intellectual property theft. Unfortunately, this type of theft is especially likely to occur in “insider” cases, due either to former employees or trusted colleagues. Therefore, it is crucial for everyone, from individuals to large corporations, to protect their intellectual property with trademarks, patents and copyrights.
However, many people misunderstand the differences between these three forms of intellectual property, or IP. If you find yourself getting mixed up over trademark, copyright and patent laws, here is a quick guide you can use to determine which kind of intellectual property rights a work can receive.
If it’s a name or symbol for a product or service…
Then it needs a trademark. Trademarks are used to protect brand names and company names, so a competitor can’t try to cash in on someone else’s brand. Additionally, specific products and services may also have a trademark, also to minimize brand confusion among consumers. In the United States, trademarks are handled through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
If it’s a written or artistic work…
Then it gets copyrighted. Copyrights apply to anything that is written, such as a poem, song, book, play, screenplay, an entire album of song or just about anything else. Artistic works such as paintings, drawings, sculptures, and architectural designs are also copyrighted. Although copyrights are handled through the U.S. Copyright Office, they don’t actually need to be copyrighted officially. Any written or artistic work is already copyrighted upon its creation. However, for cases of copyright infringement, it’s best to make things official and have an attorney on your side.
If it’s a type of invention or a design for one…
Then it requires a patent. Patents are perhaps the most complex of intellectual property laws because they can vary depending on what’s been invented. Like trademarks, they are handled through the USPTO. There are three main types of patents: utility patents, for new and useful creations or ornamental designs on them; design patents, for inventions that have been planned but not created; and plant patents, for any type of asexually reproduced plant that has been created. If you have any confusion on these forms of IP, it’s best to speak with an attorney.
If you are someone with a type of intellectual property to protect, be sure to speak with an intellectual property rights lawyer about what you need to do. Because IP laws can vary so widely, it’s important to speak with an attorney with knowledge of your creation — for instance, if you invent a new type of plant, you’ll want a lawyer with knowledge of plant patents.
Have any general questions about trademark, copyright and patent laws? Leave a comment below. More on this topic.