Differentiating Between Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights

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Creations of the mind are legally protected under the broad umbrella of Intellectual Property. These may include original works, designs, symbols, inventions, etc. which are potentially valuable and novel. By owning the IP, the inventor gets awarded the legal protection of their invention and exclusive rights to use, manufacture, or sell it. This protection is guaranteed in various forms like trademarks, patents, and copyrights depending on the content of the invention. Below we elaborate on the difference between copyright vs trademark vs patent. 

Table of Contents

Defining Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights

Patents refer to a type of monopolistic legal right awarded by the patent office for a novel, unique, and useful invention. The USPTO is the authority responsible for granting patents in the USA. Depending on the eligibility criteria, patents are categorised as utility patents, design patents, and plant patents.  

Trademarks refer to signs or symbols that are distinct in appearance and used by companies to identify their brand. Trademarks serve the important purpose of differentiating between various brands. Sound, smell, colour scheme, text, symbol, and phrase can all come under trademarks. 

Copyrights grant legal protection to literary and artistic works. Books, music, sculptures, films, databases, computer programs, advertisements, maps etc, are some of the subjects covered under copyrights. 

Registration

Patents: The patent filing process is long and arduous, involving the filing of an application and the submission of mandatory documents. It takes about 32 months on average for a patent to be granted in the USA. Filing for a patent does not guarantee that the applicant will secure it. The decision rests on the patent application duly fulfilling all eligibility criteria laid down by the USPTO. 

Trademarks: The difference between patent and trademark is that the trademark application process is much simpler. The applicant is required to apply online and submit the required documents. The USPTO takes around 2-4 months to examine the application. If no objections are raised, the trademark is granted within a period of 9-12 months.  

Differentiating Between Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights

Copyrights: The difference between copyright and trademark and patent is that copyright applications are submitted to the U.S. Copyrights Office and not the USPTO. A completed application form along with a copy of the work and the requisite fee is submitted to the Office. While most copyrights are granted within 3-8 months, it may take up to 10 months in rare cases. 

Validity Of Patent Vs Copyright Vs Trademark

While utility and plant patents are valid for 20 years, design patents expire in 14 years. The same cannot be extended. 

Trademarks are granted for a span of 10 years, after which they may be renewed upon the payment of a fee. The renewal is subject to active commercial usage of the trademark.

The protection afforded by copyrights lasts for a period of the author’s lifetime plus 70 years. In cases where the work is anonymous, it extends up to 95 years from its first issue or 120 years from its creation (whichever expires first). Copyrights renewal is not available for works created after January 1, 1978.

Types

Patent

Under U.S. Code Title 35, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) 3 types of patents are available in the USA: 

The most commonly applied for patent, the utility patent covers novel methods, processes, machines, manufactures etc. It offers a broad scope of protection and involves a maintenance fee that needs to be paid for continued protection. It takes anywhere between 2 to 3 years to secure a utility patent. 

The discovery of new and distinct asexually producing plants falls under the purview of a plant patent. Hybrids, seedlings, sports, cultivations, and mutants are included under plant patents. Such patents do not require any maintenance fee.  

Any new, ornamental, or original design that is commercially applicable to something being manufactured is eligible for a design patent. They are the least applied for patents and the easiest to secure. They do not attract any maintenance fee and are also less expensive to apply for compared to other patents. 

Trademarks

The answer to what’s the difference between patent and trademark is also contained in the types of trademarks, which are as follows: 

A generic mark only qualifies for a trademark if it includes a description of the qualities, ingredients, or characteristics that makes a business distinct.  

These trademarks are reserved for the product in particular and define one or more of their characteristics. When a descriptive mark acquires a secondary meaning and consumers begin to identify it with the brand it qualifies for a trademark. E.g., Sharp (television), Windows (windowing software) etc. 

 When words only point towards a product or service offered by the company without connecting with it in a literal sense they fall under the category of suggestive marks. E.g., Jaguar (implies speed but doesn’t literally mean a car), Netflix etc. 

A word, logo, or name that does not relate to anything that exists is a fanciful mark. Since it does not hold any meaning to the public in general, these are the easiest trademarks to obtain. Nike, Adidas, etc. are a few examples.  

A term or phrase which has a meaning familiar to the general public, but is used in a different sense fall in the category of arbitrary marks. Thus, they borrow the name from the vernacular but denote something else entirely. A Case in point is Apple, named after a fruit but offers mobile and other electronic devices.  

Copyrights

What the difference between trademark patent and copyright is, is that copyrights are a broad category on their own without any further categorisations. Any work which is independently produced and captured in a fixed medium is eligible for copyright. It only protects expressions and not ideas which are covered under patents.  

Conclusion 

As is clear from the above paragraphs, there are plenty of difference between copyright patent and trademark. While each of them confers protection to original works by a person, they differ in their subject matter, eligibility, application, validity etc. However, one who has secured any of the above rights remains the sole owner and can file for infringement in case of theft by other parties. It is this legal guarantee and security that binds the three together.  

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