While every company understands the need of protecting its intellectual property, it’s easy to become confused about what sort of intellectual property safeguards. Even prominent publications frequently get it incorrect, reporting that a corporation owns a patent on a word r copyright to a technique or procedure. Here’s a quick guide on distinguishing between copyright, patents, and trademarks.
What Is a Copyright?
Creative creations are protected by copyrights. The intellectual property right in the work itself is copyright, whether it’s a book, a piece of music, a sculpture, an architectural sketch, a movie, a fashion design, or even this article. The author creator owns the copyright (unless it’s work created for hire) as soon as the work is “fixed” – written down, sculptures, recorded, or otherwise set down in an enduring form. You don’t have to do anything other than manufacture something to hold a copyright, yet you will need to register it if you wish to enforce it in court.
Only the copyrighted work’s owner has the authority to make copies, distribute copies, perform, show, or create derivative works.
A copyright is valid for the author’s lifetime plus 70 years (for works made for hire, 95 years from when they are first published). Copyright does not need to be renewed or maintained.
Ideas aren’t protected by copyrights; only the manner you present them is. Copying the Mona Lisa directly would be an infraction if it was still protected by copyright, but anyone could paint a slightly smiling figure in black. Copyright can protect the pattern you print on the back or the purely artistic sculpture of the arms if you design a new chair, but it cannot protect the new type of caster you invented, the unique manufacturing procedure, or the name under which you sell the chair.
What Is a Patent?
Inventions are protected by patents. A patent can be used to protect a novel mousetrap, a new way to create hats, medicine, or anything else that someone can make or do. You must apply for a patent, describe how to create or do what you want to protect, and define exactly what you’ve invented and want to protect, unlike with copyright. A patent is essentially a trade; you provide your knowledge in exchange for a monopoly on the specific use of that information. You don’t have any patent rights unless you receive a patent, and if you don’t apply for one quickly enough, you can miss out. The exclusive right to create, use, or sell the invention protected by the claims of a patent belongs to the patent owner.
A Patent can last for up to 20 years after filing, but it must be maintained or it will expire prematurely.
Plant patents, which cover the right to reproduce a plant, and design patents, which protect the attractive look of a product, are also available. When someone mentions a patent or says a product is “patented”, they are usually referring to utility patents, which protect inventions.
Because patents are both time-sensitive and intricate, you should contact a patent attorney as soon as possible if you have invented something. To return to the new chair example, a utility patent may protect the new caster or manufacturing procedure, as well as a lift mechanism you devised, while a design patent could protect the chair’s overall appearance.
What Is a Trademark?
Symbols and identifiers are protected by trademarks. A trademark can be anything that identifies the source of a product or service to consumers. A trademark can be a name (Nike) or a symbol (the McDonald’s Golden Arches), but it can also be the shape of a product (Goldfish crackers) or its packaging (the Coca-Cola bottle), or even a color (Tiffany blue) or sound (the McDonald’s Golden Arches) (the NBC chime). You have trademark rights as soon as you use a specific mark to identify your goods or services, but it’s always a good idea to register your trademark to ensure that your rights are fully protected.
If you keep using a trademark, it can last a lifetime, and some are hundreds of years old. However, trademark registrations in the United States must be renewed every ten years by demonstrating ongoing usage.
Trademarks only protect identifiers, not any functional or beneficial attribute, whether it is required or simply improves a product. You can’t stop other coffee shops from calling their coffee, coffee, because trademarks don’t protect generic names. To return to the chair one last time, the brand name you chose to advertise it under, as well as a logo stamp on the chair itself, would be a trademark.