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How do copyrights, trademarks and patents differ?

The US Constitution gives US Congress the power to issue intellectual property rights to “promote the progress of sciences and arts.” So, copyrights, trademarks and patents are a means to reach that end. Each has a distinct function and varying requirements, but the main idea is to protect overall innovation and the flow of ideas. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Copyrights: The purpose of a copyright is to protect an author’s expression of ideas. The key is that it is the actual expression that is protected here rather than the underlying idea. Copyrights are generally used for things like books or plays or any type of art really. The author has the exclusive right to copy and reproduce the work so a copyright will be infringed by any unauthorized copying of the work. A copyright will attach as soon as an author fixes a work in a tangible medium, meaning as soon it is written down, it can not be copied.
  • Trademarks: The purpose of trademark protection is to protect a company’s name or logo from infringement by competitors. Basically, a protected trademark will give a company the exclusive right to use a certain “mark” in the marketplace. The “mark” can be a name, logo, or phrase, etc. The idea is that your name and logo should stand for what your company stands for and if a competitor can come in and use your logo, then they will be able to free-ride off of the goodwill that you have built up in the marketplace. The protection of a trademark is sometimes limited by region or industry or in some cases it can be international, but in general will be limited by the scope of your use.
  • Patents: A patent is issued to protect an invention. The invention can be any new and useful product or process or an improvement on an existing product or process. The requirements for a patent are probably the most strict because it provides the inventor the most powerful rights, allowing the inventor to exclude use of the invention by others without payment. A patent will give the inventor a limited monopoly on the invention so you really have to prove that you deserve it before it will be granted by the US PTO.

This is a quick rundown and there are other factors to keep in mind. If you are trying to acquire intellectual property rights, I suggest you speak with an attorney. If you are looking for an experienced IP attorney or just have more questions, visit LawTrades. Our legal platform offers free consultations and no obligation price quotes. Good luck!


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