Trademark, Copyright or Patent Protection?

Some people confuse the three major types of Intellectual property protection. Although there may be some similarities between the types of protection, they are inherently different and serve different purposes.

Trademarks protect names, terms and symbols that are used to identify and distinguish the source of the goods and/or services on the market. In other words, trademarks let consumers distinguish one company's goods and services from another's. Examples of famous trademarks include brand names such as "Coca-Cola" and images such as Nike's famous "swoosh." Trademark protection is a federal protection and as the owner of a federally registered trademark, you can sue any infringers in federal court and prevent the importation of foreign or local goods, which display your trademark.

Trademark rights come from actual use, meaning a trademark can last forever, as long as you continue to use the mark on your particular goods or services. If a trademark has been registered with the USPTO, you can use the ® symbol next to your goods or services.

Copyrights protect original creative works such as movies, songs, books, paintings, photographs, architecture, web content and choreography. Copyright too is a federal protection, meaning, as the owner of a federally registered copyright, you can control how your work is reproduced, distributed and presented publicly, and you can sue infringers in federal court and prevent others from importing infringing goods.

Copyright protection duration depends upon who is applying for it.  For works created by an individual, protection lasts for the life of the author, plus 70 years.  For works created anonymously, pseudonymously, and for hire, protection lasts 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever is shorter.

Patents protect inventions. The various types of patentable inventions include machines, manufactured articles, industrial processes, and chemical compositions.  There are two different types of patents that can be granted for your invention: design and utility patents. A utility patent protects inventions with new or improved functions such as machines, processes or chemical compositions. A design patent, on the other hand, provides protection for any new ornamental design for an article of manufacture.  In other words, a design patent provides protection for the unique look of a functional item. A design patent does not protect the function of an invention, whereas a utility patent does. A few examples of design patent categories include jewelry, clothing, furniture, a beverage container, or even a computer icon. A famous design patent is Coca-Cola’s unique bottle shape.

The duration of patent protection depends upon the type of patent granted. For design patents, this duration is 15 years from issuance for applications filed on or after May 13, 2015 (14 years from issuance if filed before May 13, 2015)

Utility patents and plant patents - 20 years from the date on which the application for the patent was filed in the United States or, in special cases, from the date an earlier related application was filed.

So next time you are wondering what the appropriate type of protection is for your creation, you can go through the above listed criteria to get a better understanding of the differences between various protections.