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How Do Patents, Trademarks, Copyrights Differ?

By Tanya Roth, Esq. | Last updated on

What's the difference between a patent, a trademark and a copyright?

If you're new to the concepts and ideas in intellectual property law, they all may seem like the same thing to you.

But there are some differences to each one. And knowing which one you need can make all the difference.

Let's focus on the person who holds the patent, copyright, or trademark.

  • An inventor or a scientist may apply for a patent.
  • A writer or an artist would likely apply for a copyright.
  • An artist or company with a unique logo may want to get a trademark.

A patent protects an invention. Essentially, it gives the inventor exclusive property rights over the processes or the design of an item.

You'll likely see these when looking at a product. Think of an iPhone, for example. Apple has several patents out on iPhone technology. These patents protect everything from the way the iPhone looks to the technology on the inside.

That explains why it's so hard for other similar items to infiltrate the market -- because the specifications in Apple's patent make it really hard for anyone to come up with a device that even closely resembles the iPhone, without running into resistance from Apple.

A copyright, on the other hand, protects published and unpublished works. This can be works of art, literature or even software.

Only the holder of the patent can distribute the product, make copies or use the protected material, unless a licensing agreement is in place.

A trademark is a bit different from the other two. It's the right over a particular image, phrase or logo. It gives the owner the right over that particular phrase or logo.

In many cases, you'll see copyrights, patents or trademarks overlap. Going back to the example of Apple and the iPad, for example, the name iPad is trademarked, but the product itself is patented.

Make sense? Check out FindLaw's comprehensive Intellectual Property Center to learn more.

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