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  • Writer's pictureLisa Maria Grigley

Trademarks, Copyrights and Patents - What's the Difference?

There are a variety of options when it comes to protecting your intellectual property. The terms trademark, copyright and patent are often used interchangeably, so what's the difference?

The main distinction is that each type of protection is used for different types of intellectual property, although it is possible to have a product or service that uses all three. A trademark identifies the origin of a good or service. More simply put, it tells you where something came from. The easiest way to think about this is a brand or business name, although it can extend further than that. When you hear about a car called a Camry, you automatically understand that this car was manufactured and sold by Toyota. The same can be said about the Macbook and Iphone (manufactured by Apple). Copyright protects the expression of an idea. This could be something very creative, like a painting or sculpture, or something more technical like an instruction manual. However, there must be some level of originality to the work. For example, in 1991, the U.S. Supreme Court found that a phone book lacks the amount of creativity needed to be protected by copyright. The work must also have some length to it - it cannot be a single word or short phrase. Unlike trademarks and patents, a copyright is established at the time a work is created. However, it must be registered before you can enforce those rights in court. Finally, a patent protects your right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling an invention. There are three categories of patents. Utility patents cover processes, machines, article of manufactures, compositions of matter, or any new and useful improvement of the aforementioned categories. Design patents cover any new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture. Plant patents cover any invention or discovery of any distinct and new variety of plant when the application asexually reproduces that plant. A single product can encompass all three protections. For example, a medication itself can be patented, the warning and instruction labels may be copyrighted, and the manufacturer's name or logo can be trademarked. Ready to trademark or copyright your intellectual property? Reach out to Grigley Legal for a free consultation.

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