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The most common question we get is, “What is the difference between copyrights, patents, and trademarks?” People often use the terms interchangeably. Confusion abounds. Have no fear. Here’s a quick breakdown.

A copyright protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. So, we have a copyright on the words in this post because it is a literary work. We know. The definition is broad. Generally, a copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years after the author’s death. You can register a copyright by visiting copyright.gov.

A patent protects inventions or discoveries. It is a limited duration property right granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in exchange for public disclosure of the invention. The patent process can be very complicated, so the USPTO recommends professional help. For that reason, the USPTO maintains a nationwide register of attorneys and agents that meet its legal, scientific and technical requirements. For information on registered patent attorney and agents, you can visit the USPTO’s Office of Enrollment and Discipline site.

A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination thereof, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. A service mark is a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination thereof, that identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than goods. The word “trademark” is often used to refer to both trademarks and service marks. If you need a trademark, we can help with that!

For a more thorough discussion of the differences between copyrights, patents, and trademarks, check out this video from the USPTO!