Whether you're a new business, product or service just starting out or if you're an older business simply changing your logo or slogan, it's important to understand the difference between copyright, trademarks, and patents. While there are similarities among these intellectual properties, they are all separate and serve different purposes. According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the definitions of a trademark, patent, and copyright are as follows:
- Trademark – A word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. Trademarks can be used to prevent others from using a confusingly similar mark like a business logo, but it does not prevent others from making the same goods or from selling the same goods or services under a different mark.
- Patent – A limited duration property right relating to an invention, granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office in exchange for public disclosure of the invention. A patent provides the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention in the United States.
- Copyright – Protects works of authorship, such as writings, music, and works of art that have been tangibly expressed. The 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of the copyright the right to reproduce the copyrighted work, to prepare derivative works, to distribute copies of the copyrighted work, to perform the copyrighted work publicly, or to display the copyrighted work publicly.
Put simply, a copyright protect works of authorship as fixed in a tangible form of expression while a trademark protects words, phrases and logos used to identify the source of goods and/or services. A mark does not need to be registered; however, there are many advantages to registering your trademark, patent, or copyright which includes a notice to the public your claim of ownership of the mark. Registration also provides you with the exclusive right to use the mark in connection with your business.
So how do you know which one you need? In order to correctly identify and register your trademark, patent, or copyright, it's important to get the legal advice of an experienced California business lawyer. A lawyer can ensure that your business is properly protected and give you peace of mind.