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What's the difference between trademarks, patents and copyrights?

There are many different ways to protect intellectual property. Three of the most common are patents, trademarks and copyrights.

People often use these terms interchangeably, as if they all refer to the same thing, but that is a common misconception. They are actually all very different, and they focus on different types of protections. You need to know how they work to know which one you need to use.

Here is a quick breakdown:

  • Copyright: This protects things that you authored or created. For instance, if you wrote a novel, you could copyright that novel so that everyone else knew they could not use the content themselves.
  • Patent: This is aimed more at discoveries, developments and inventions. People apply for patents when they have created a new invention and they want to market the product without worrying that someone else is going to steal the idea and make their own product. This rewards the inventor for coming up with it in the first place.
  • Trademark: This focuses on the things that identify companies, services or goods, whether they are designs, symbols, phrases or words. For instance, if you start your own company and design a logo, you can't get a copyright for it, but you can use a trademark so that no one else can steal your logo and then poach your customers by making them think they're buying from your company.

As you can imagine, many companies use all of these different protections in various ways to make sure that their intellectual property is safe. Make sure you know what steps to take.

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