In the world of intellectual property, three distinct legal forms protect the creation of original work: trademarks, patents, and copyrights. They are all designed to give legal rights to the creators of authentic products, but they differ in terms of what they protect, how they are enforced, and what they offer.
In this listicle, William Hanron Redmond explores the differences between trademarks, patents, and copyrights. From what they protect to how they work, we’ll break down everything you need to know about these three types of intellectual property protection.
A trademark is a symbol, design, word, phrase, or combination of those elements used to identify and distinguish one company’s goods or services from those of another. For example, Coca-Cola’s logo, Nike’s “swoosh,” and McDonald’s “golden arches” are all trademarks.
Trademarks can be registered or unregistered and are protected by law as long as they continue to be used. Registered trademarks are granted protection by the government, and their owners have the exclusive right to use them for a specific time. Unregistered trademarks are still protected by law, but their owners have fewer legal rights and must rely on common law protection.
A patent is a legal document that gives the inventor of an original creation the exclusive right to make, use, and sell their invention for a specific time. There are three types of patents: utility, design, and plant.
Utility patents are the most common type and are granted for new and useful inventions, processes, machines, or compositions of matter. On the other hand, design patents protect the ornamental design of an article of manufacture (e.g., a new chair design). Plant patents protect unique and distinct varieties of plants that have been invented or discovered and asexually reproduced.
A copyright is a legal protection for original works of authorship, such as books, music, movies, and computer software. Copyright law grants the owner of a copyright the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, and display their work.
Unlike trademarks and patents, copyright protection is granted automatically upon the creation of the work. While copyright registration is not required, it is recommended as it provides legal evidence of ownership and allows for statutory damages in the event of infringement.
Now that we’ve outlined the basics of each type of intellectual property protection let’s look at how they differ in scope, duration, and enforcement.
Trademarks protect brand names, logos, slogans, or any other identifier that distinguishes one company’s products and services from those of another. They do not cover the underlying product or service itself.
Patents, on the other hand, protect inventions, processes, designs, and discoveries. Patent protection is limited to the specific invention described in the patent application. It does not cover any similar ideas or concepts that fall outside of the particular claims of the patent.
Copyrights protect original works of authorship, such as books, music, movies, and computer software. Copyright protection is broad, covering the entire work and any form in which the work is expressed.
Trademarks can last indefinitely as long as they continue to be used in commerce and registered. Trademark owners must renew their registration and prove continued trademark use every 5 to 10 years, depending on the country.
Patents usually last for a fixed period, generally 20 years from the filing date. In some cases, patent owners may be able to extend the life of their patents through various legal mechanisms.
Copyright protection generally lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. In the case of a work made for hire or anonymous works, the duration is either 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter.
Trademark owners can enforce their rights through lawsuits against those who infringe on their trademarks. Enforcing trademarks usually involves seeking an injunction to stop the infringement or damages for any harm caused.
Patent owners can exclude others from making, using, and selling their patented inventions. Infringement of a patent can be enforced through lawsuits seeking injunctions, damages, and other remedies.
Copyright owners have the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, display, and perform their works. They can enforce their rights through lawsuits against those who violate their rights, seeking injunctions, damages, and other remedies.
William Hanron Redmond explains that trademarks, patents, and copyrights are different forms of intellectual property protection. Each type of protection provides its scope, duration, and enforcement mechanisms. It is important to understand the differences between these types of IP to decide which form of protection is best for your business or product. With the right understanding and application of trademarks, patents, and copyrights, you can effectively protect your intellectual property and ensure the success of your business or product.
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