What Is Copyright?
Copyright protects creative works in a tangible form; this includes books, movies, music, games, artwork, and other kinds of creative products. You see and hear examples of copyrighted intellectual property every day. Every expression of original thought and creativity is protected by copyright. Although a copyright may be registered with the Library of Congress Copyright Office, the creator of such an expression holds the copyright—and all the rights that go with it—regardless of registration.
What Is a Trademark or a Service Mark?
A trademark, another common type of IP, is registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) as a mark that distinguishes the source of goods or services. Trademarks are an interestingly broad example of intellectual property. A trademark can be anything that differentiates a particular company from its competitors, including:
- A logo
- A slogan
- A sound
- A color
Trademarking may overlap with copyright; for instance, a logo may be copyrightable as an artistic creation and also registered as a trademark. However, a trademark may protect words, designs, and other elements that are not considered copyrightable. Like copyrights, trademarks may be protected under common law and the Lanham Act even if they are not registered.
What Is a Patent?
Patents are special forms of IP registered with the USPTO; they protect inventions and functional designs for products. In exchange for publicly disclosing the invention or design, the inventor gains exclusive rights to the use of the patented device for a set amount of time, currently 20 years for utility and plant patents, 14 years for design patents. A utility patent covers inventions, that is, non-obvious and useful processes, machines, manufactured articles, or compositions of matter; plant patents are issued for new varieties of plants; and design patents protect ornamental designs.
Unlike the creative property protected by trademarks or copyrights, practical inventions and designs are protected only if a patent granted by the USPTO. However, patentable inventions can be protected as trade secrets under the Uniform Trade Secrets Act as long as they provide economic value and reasonable measures are taken to ensure their secrecy. Some companies and inventors choose to rely on trade secret protection to avoid the disclosure required to win a patent.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.