FAQs About Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights

What exactly is considered "Intellectual Property?"

"Intellectual Property" is a legal term used generally to include the main bodies of law such as patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Modernly, other areas are often included under the intellectual property umbrella such as trade dress, trade secrets, internet law, and licensing issues.

What is the difference between a copyright, patent, and trademark?

There are some similarities between intellectual property rights on patents, copyrights, and trademarks, but each requires a different legal process to obtain and serves a different purpose.

Copyrights, patents, and trademarks are not interchangeable; each one covers a different kind of property. For this reason, business owners often hire an attorney to help them obtain a combination of intellectual property rights to ensure they are fully protected.

In general:

Copyrights: A copyright protects certain "forms of expression." Forms of expression include works of art and written materials. In most situations, the creator may have limited automatic protection of some rights without formally registering something created. However, it is difficult to assert rights to unregistered works, and rights to compensation for copyright infringement are limited without formal registration.

Patents: A patent protects your rights to an invention. Obtaining a patent is a legal process that requires submitting a formal patent application to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

Trademarks: A trademark is a word, name, symbol, or device that is used in trade with goods to indicate the source of the goods and to distinguish them from the goods of others. In other words, trademarks are concerned with preventing confusion in the marketplace between different goods/services whereby protecting the public. A trademark must be registered with the Patent and Trademark Office in the United States.