Intellectual Property: Difference Between Trademarks, Copyrights, and Patents

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, its ultimate purpose is to protect the consumer, by informing them about 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. He/she will assist you in processing your product or services within the illustrated categories.

Choosing whether to get your work/ invention/creation patented, copyrighted or trademarked can be quite a tedious task. Especially if you do not know how to distinguish one from another. Therefore, the motive of today’s post was to make it clear in the mind of readers what each one of the different methods of safeguarding various types of intellectual properties means and how they are different from each other.

To Sum it Up…

To brief the things up, we can say that what makes Patent, Copyright and Trademark different from each other is the fact that Copyright is used to protect the work done by authors, ex- books, songs, movies and some other works. Also, patents are used for machines and other materialistic innovations by the firms. On the other hand, Trademark is usually used for taglines and brand names that distinguish one firm from another or the goods of different firms. Protecting your brand can ensure your small business look like a serious and big company.

If you have a company website, note that most of the time, notice about trademarks and copyrights should be stated in your website footer. This will make sure you’ve protected your intellectual property. Also, give the impression of a serious company taking care of its company assets.

The term of protection of Patents, Copyrights, and Trademark differ as well. Copyright is valid for as long as the author of the work is alive, and 70 more years after his death. Patents are valid for a period of 20 years and Trademark has infinite validity.

Therefore, we see that all three of the intellectual properties basically perform the same function. But they are used in different sectors and protect and safeguard against different threats.

However, it should be kept in mind that there are only 3 methods and ways of safeguarding intellectual properties. They are Patent, Trademark, and Copyright and it is easy to distinguish between each one of them if some points are kept in mind regarding their proper definitions, usage, and terms of validity.


Thus we can conclude that a creator and inventor has many different ways of making sure his/her work is not misused. And also, has many options available in front of him/her to protect and secure his work. It is essential for an inventor/creator to protect his or her work. They must ensure that it is not misused and does not fall into someone’s hands. Otherwise, it can be used for selfish personal gain at the expense of others’ loss.

As a rule of thumb; Copyrights are used to control and curb reproduction, taking inspiration from the original work and creating something closely related and the public display or performance of the work which has been patented. Also, Copyright safeguards the interest of a firm or the inventor against the re-creation of similar machines using the similar technology. And selling the said invention or importing it. Whereas, Trademarks are used to mark the different goods in order to distinguish them from each other. Also to prevent the use of similar marks by the competitors so that they do not fool the public and sell lower quality goods. Which can, in turn, affect the real brand’s market image and good reputation.

Sam Mollaei
Sam Mollaei, Esq., a business lawyer is head of the law firm Mollaei Law, which provides 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, ITIN application and answering any legal questions you may have about your business.
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