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Trademarks, copyrights and patents: What's the difference?

In our blog posts, we often write about intricate aspects of intellectual property law or discuss specific, high-profile cases. In this post, we are returning to the basics.

Before you can obtain accurate protection for your intellectual property, it is important to understand what options best fit your needs. In general, your ideas or creations will require registration as a trademark, copyright or patent. Let's discuss the three main types of intellectual property in more detail.

Trademarks - A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design that identifies and distinguishes your goods or services from others in the marketplace. Trademarks can include brand names, slogans, logos and, in some cases, business names.

Registration of trademarks is not mandatory. You can establish rights simply through common use in the marketplace. However, as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) notes, registering your trademark has advantages, including "notice to the public of the registrant's claim of ownership of the mark, a legal presumption of ownership nationwide, and the exclusive right to use the mark." Trademark registration is indefinite, as long as you keep documentation and fee payments up to date.

Copyrights - A copyright protects specific "original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture." The U.S. Copyright Office conducts copyright registrations and maintains the documenting of titles and licenses.

Creative works are protected by copyright for the life of the author, plus 70 years. For anonymous and for-hire works, copyrights are protected for 120 years from the creation date or 95 years from the publication date, whichever is shorter.

Patents - A patent is a limited-duration protection granted to several types of inventions. The USPTO oversees this registration process, which can be applied to "machines, manufactured articles, industrial processes, and chemical compositions."

Patent protection lasts 15 years from the date of issue for design patents. For utility patents and plant patents, the protection duration is 20 years from the date the application was filed.

Don't wait to protect your intellectual property. Contact an experienced attorney who can help you identify your needs and guide you through the registration process.

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