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Patents, Copyrights, and Trademarks: An Introduction

By Eric Misterovich

patent copyright and trademark office
The United States Patent and Trademark Office main building in Alexandria, VA. Licensed through Creative Commons. Matt Rice.

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, yet many people often confuse the three. To help clear up this confusion, here is a basic introduction to copyrights, trademarks, and patents.


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.

Obtaining a patent requires filing with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Our attorneys regularly work with patent projects, as they typically involve other areas of law, including corporate formation and organization.

More on patents here.


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.

Copyright owners possess that exclusive right at the moment the work is created in a fixed, tangible form. For example, the moment you take a picture, and that picture is fixed in a tangible form, whether on film or digitally stored, you have copyright rights in that photograph.

Copyrights can be registered with the United States Copyright Office. This is not required to obtain copyright rights, however, it does provide a number of benefits.

More on copyrights here.


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, used  or intended to be used to identify the sources of the goods/services of one company from those of other companies.

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 through the actual use of the mark. However, formal trademark registration gives businesses a much greater level of protection.

More about Trademarks here.


  • Patents protect inventions
  • Copyrights protect original works of art
  • Trademarks protect brand names to identify the source of goods

If you have questions about the proper form of protection for your assets, contact our intellectual property law attorneys today by completing the form below.

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