Trademarks, Copyrights and Patents – What’s the Difference?

Trademarks, copyrights, and patents are all different tools that are used to protect ideas and content. Quite often people tend to confuse these three. It is important to have a clear working knowledge of what they are since we encounter them everyday. Business owners, inventors, and content developers like artists, musicians and writers, all have a need for these forms of protection to safeguard their work. Even others need to know about intellectual property protection to ensure that they do not accidentally plagiarize or use another person’s work incorrectly.

An Explanation of Copyrights

Copyrights are used to protect works that have been authored by someone. This can include songs, books, screenplays, paintings, photographs, designs, and so on. A copyright can apply to such works even if they have not been published. The person who owns the copyright is the only one who is legally allowed to reproduce or distribute that piece of work. They can also create derivative works (for example, altering an image), hold public performances of the work, or display it in public. Keep in mind that copyrights are typically used for abstract works. For example, if it was applied to the description of a new invention, the copyright would not actually protect the invention itself. Rather, it would protect the description.

What Are Servicemarks and Trademarks?


Trademarks are typically words, logos, or even devices that are used in association with the sale of products. Their purpose is to help others recognize which individual or company created the goods, and it also serves to make the goods distinctive from other ones. In comparison, a servicemark functions in much the same way, except that it is applied to services rather than physical goods. If an object is trademarked, others might still make similar products but they may not use the same or similar mark to identify it. Trademarks and servicemarks are useful in clarifying and conveying information to customers pertaining to the origins and authenticity of the product.

An Introduction to Patents


The Patent and Trademark Office issues patents as a type of protection for inventions. It is known as a property right. In order for someone to acquire a patent, their invention needs to be something that is new, useful, and it should function differently or do things in a different manner from any existing devices. New patents are valid for a period of twenty years. Having something patented means that the inventor has the right to exclude other people from reproducing, selling, or using their invention.

Differences Between Copyrights and Trademarks


Although copyrights and trademarks are so often confused, they do hold some key differences. Copyrights are primarily used to safeguard works that have been authored. A copyright can be applied to writing, art, music, performance arts, and film. On the other hand, trademarks are applied to logos, phrases, or single words that are used in conjunction with the trade of a good (or services, in the case of servicemarks). There are some scenarios where a copyright as well as trademark might be used. For example, a series of books with a very distinctive logo and slogan might hold a copyright to protect the content and cover art of the books, and a trademark to protect the logo and slogan. The distinction is that in general, copyrights are not used for single words or brief phrases, such as slogans. Protection of images can vary depending on how they are used. Photographs used in advertising campaigns can be copyrighted, but the company’s logo in the same campaigns would be trademarked.

There are different processes for applying for a copyright or a trademark. Copyrights involve a minor filing fee and a brief registration period. In addition to this, the Copyright Office will check that the forms and application are satisfactorily completed. When registering for a trademark, the cost and time involved are significantly larger. Besides this, the Trademark Office also has to perform an in-depth check to ensure that the content is not too similar to other content that is already trademarked. Finally, content that is copyrighted is subject to royalty and licensing fees. Imagine that a band creates a song and holds the copyright to it. A customer might pay to purchase a compact disc for personal use at home. Suppose the same customer wants to use this song in a movie they have made. Even though they already paid for a copy of the CD, they would still have to pay licensing fees to the band for the use of the music in their movie. In other words, each separate use of the content is subject to additional royalty or licensing fees. This type of concept does not apply to trademarks.

If indeed you do need a trademark, trademark attorney Xavier Morales can guide you through the process, from search to filing to protection.

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