The world of intellectual property law primarily focuses on protecting assets. And the law provides different forms of protection depending on the asset. In general, these protections are found in copyrights, trademarks, and patents. These three types of protection apply to very specific assets, but it can be easy to confuse the three. To help clear up this confusion, here is a basic introduction to copyrights, trademarks, and patents.
Copyright is a form of protection to authors of “original works authorship” of certain kinds of work. Specifically, copyright protections apply to literary, dramatic, musical, pictorial, sculptural, and graphic works, among others.
Copyright protections give the copyright owner the exclusive ability to reproduce, distribute, perform, publicly display, and make derivative works of the owner’s original content.
Those rights begin at the moment the work is created in a fixed, tangible form. For example, the moment you take a picture, and it’s in a tangible form, whether on film, on paper, or digitally stored in your cell phone, you have copyright rights in that photograph.
Copyrights can be registered with the United States Copyright Office. Even though copyright rights exist prior to registering, registering does provide a number of benefits.
While copyrights protect original works of authorship, trademarks are designed to identify a source of goods or service. A trademark, or service mark, includes any word, name, symbol, or any combination of them, that’s used or meant to be used to identify the sources of the goods/services of one company from those of other companies. Basically, a trademark is a logo or name that sets something for sale apart from its competitors and makes it recognizable on the market.
Trademarks are designed to protect the public by limiting confusion in the marketplace. Successful businesses build brands and obtain goodwill by meeting their customers’ expectations. And those customers should be able to seek out the products or services of that business without confusion. Trademark law prevents a competing business from attempting to use the goodwill created by the successful business for its own benefit.
Businesses can obtain trademark rights without formal registration by using a trademark to sell its products. However, formal trademark registration gives businesses a much greater level of protection.
Patents are a property right granted to an inventor “to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the inventing into the United States.”
Patents essentially grant the inventor a limited duration monopoly on his or her invention. This provides a strong incentive to encourage inventors to create.
Unlike copyright or trademark rights, which are protected even without formal filing, an inventor must file his or her patent application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office in order to have patent rights. Our attorneys regularly work with patent projects, as they typically involve other areas of law, including corporate formation and organization.
To summarize, copyrights protect original works of art, trademarks protect brand names to identify the source of goods, and patents protect inventions.
If you have questions about the proper form of protection for your assets, contact our intellectual property law attorneys today by completing the form on this page or by calling Revision Legal at 855.473.8474.
An earlier version of this post appeared on September 27, 2013.
Image credit to Flickr user BusinessSarah