Difference between trademark, copyright and patent

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Intellectual property is a vast and complex term. Many a time people are confused or have incorrectly used the terms in intellectual property law. They have spoken of "copyrighting" an idea or even "patenting" a book! To understand these terms, it is essential to know what is Intellectual Property and what all does it entail.

Intellectual Property

The WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) defines Intellectual Property as

Creations of the mind: inventions; literary and artistic works; and symbols, names and images used in commerce.

The terms patent, copyright, and trademark are all used in the context of intellectual property. Although intellectual property or intellectual ideas are created in the human mind, intellectual property does not refer to the ideas. It is how the idea materialises itself and the end result that is protected with a patent, a copyright, or a trademark. The design of a fuel-efficient car maybe patented but not the idea. The story or the manuscript of a book is copyrighted and not the idea of the book itself. When you start a new company, the logo is trademarked and not the idea of creating a logo.

Terms used in intellectual property

1) Trademark

Who can seek a trademark and what does it protect?

Business and product owners file for a trademark. It protects a name, word, slogan, symbol, design, and/or image identifying a business or brand and distinguishing it from others in the same field.

What are the benefits of a trademark and what is the duration?

Registering a trademark enhances the rights of a person by providing legal evidence and public notice of ownership. It is proof enough of a nationwide exclusive right to the mark and allows the holder to sue an infringer if the case calls for it. Registered trademarks can use the ® symbol. Though a trademark is valid for an unlimited period of time, it must be renewed every 10 years.

2) Copyright

Who can seek a copyright and what does it protect?

Copyright can be sought for by authors, artists, choreographers, architects, and other creative professionals. While an idea cannot be copyrighted, the tangible form of an idea can be. This includes original works of authorship, photographs, sculptures, choreography, architectural works, sound recordings, motion pictures, and other creative works.

What are the benefits of copyright and what is the duration?

Copyrighting provides a person with legal evidence and public notice of ownership. A person can be sued in a court for infringement of copyright provided one has the papers in place. A copyright is valid for a lifetime.

3) Patent

Who can seek a patent and what does it protect?

Inventors and designers file for patents. A patent protects inventions with a new or improved function. This includes machines, processes, or chemical compositions, or the design for some product.

What are the benefits of a patent and what is the duration?

When a patent is filed, the owner gets an exclusive right to prevent others from making, using, selling, or importing the protected invention. A patent protects an invention for 20 years, but it cannot be renewed. A provisional patent lasts for about a year.

Each of these is distinct. However, sometimes a product can come into one or more of these categories. An example is a software. The code of the software will be protected by a copyright, while the functional expression of the idea will be protected by a patent. The name of the company or the software will come under a trademark!

Protecting an intellectual property is a very complex process that keeps evolving with each step during its life cycle, be it during its innovation, research, or development. Thus, a single product can have a patentable feature, a creative angle protected by copyright, and a source of the product that is trademarked.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory)


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