While most people understand the differences between tangible property and intellectual (intangible) property, understanding the differences among various forms of intellectual property can be more challenging. Patents, copyrights, and trademarks contain certain distinctive features. This makes it important to understand which alternative offers the best option to protect your rights.
Differences Between Patents and Copyrights
Patents usually involve a product or process that has a functional use. By contrast, copyrights involve the creative arts. Thus, patents usually apply to technologies, while copyrights apply to paintings, novels, songs, movies, and other areas of the humanities. Design patents can bear some similarities to copyrights because they relate to the non-functional appearance of objects.
Differences Between Patents and Trademarks
Patents cover the use of a new technology, while trademarks distinguish a product or service from competing products or services. A patent provides stronger protection because it prevents anyone else from making, selling, or using an invention without the patent owner’s permission. A trademark simply prevents other parties from marketing similar products in a manner that confuses consumers. Sometimes a patent that covers a design feature in an invention may overlap with trademark protection if the design feature also sets apart the product from competing products in the market.
Differences Between Copyrights and Trademarks
Copyrights apply to works that have a minimal amount of creativity and are fixed in a tangible medium. They do not cover individual words or phrases, and they do not protect titles of works. Trademarks serve this purpose by covering words and phrases, as well as logos and other visual images, if they are sufficiently distinctive to set apart a source of products or services from the competition. Copyright and trademark can overlap when a logo contains artistic features. Copyright protection may apply to the logo as an artistic work, while trademark protection may apply to prevent competitors from using the logo in a way that causes consumer confusion. Also, trademarks apply to the names of products and marketing slogans used in advertising, while copyrights protect the artistic features of an ad, such as additional passages of text, music, or video components.