What is the legal difference between a copyright, trademark and patent?

What is the legal difference between a copyright, trademark and patent?

Patents, copyrights and trademarks can be confusing and are often misunderstood. Although they are all types of intellectual property law, they are different and each has their own legal purpose.


Copyrights offer protection for authors of original works and are registered by the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress. This includes literature, dramas, musicals and artistic works that are published or unpublished. It gives the owner of the copyright the exclusive right to reproduce the work, publicize the work or distribute copies of the work. Rather than the exact subject matter of what is written, a copyright protects the form of expression.

For example, if the description of an electronic device could be copyrighted, it would stop others from copying the description. It would not stop others from writing their own description or from making the electronic device.


A trademark is a word, name or symbol that is used in trade with goods, to distinguish a product from other goods. They are used in interstate or foreign commerce and are registered with the Patent and Trademark Office. A trademark can prevent others from using a similar mark, but it does not stop others from making the same good or selling the same good under a different mark.

For example, a trademark can be an actual marksuch as the Nike Swoosh design, a color such as the brown used in UPS, or a sound such as the MGM lion roar.


A patent is used for inventions and is issued by the Patent and Trademark Office. Mostpatents last 20 years from the date on the patent application. Patents exclude others from making, using, selling or importing an invention.
For example, if a tool is patented, the design, appearance and usefulness all cannot be duplicated or sold.

If you have questions or concerns about protecting any form of work under intellectual property law, contact Attorney Search Network today. We can help you find an intellectul property lawyer near you who can assist you with copyrights, trademarks and patents.


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