Different Types of Intellectual Property Protection
Copyrights, trademarks, and patents are all ways to protect your intellectual property—but the three types of protection vary in scope and focus, and it’s important to know the type of protection that best corresponds with what you’re trying to protect.
A copyright is a type of intellectual property protection that applies to the expression of an idea (and not the idea itself)—music, photographs, graphic design, stories, poems, and architectural works can all be protected by a copyright, provided each would be considered an “original work of authorship” (meaning that it must have enough creativity to be considered a new work, not simply a copy of something else) that is “fixed in a tangible medium” (it exists, either physically or digitally; the idea has actually been expressed in some way).
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A patent protects an invention. To qualify for patent protection, this invention must be novel—it must be something unique and different from the way things have previously been done. In addition to being new and different, the invention must be useful. (The federal government makes no judgment on the importance of this use—the invention can be completely trivial—but it does have to have some use; if it has no use, it is not considered an invention.) Note: American patent law can also extend to discoveries, though that is a discussion for another time.
[We do not currently provide patenting services. To learn more, please review the information provided by the United States Patent & Trademark Office, or USPTO.]
A trademark is a type of protection more closely related to a copyright than a patent, but used for a different purpose; while copyrights protect against reproduction and unauthorized use, trademarks are used to identify the source of a product or service, and the protection focuses on the connection between the trademark and that source. In other words, copyrights refer to the intellectual property itself, while trademarks refer not to the trademark itself, but to the product or company being identified. For example, the Pepsi logo is a trademark—the protection relates to the way the logo identifies the company, not the logo itself.
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Real-World Examples of Different Types of Intellectual Property
1) Consider the following: you invent a product that you call “the Pitter”—it removes pits from olives, peaches, and all manner of foods containing pits in a way that hasn’t been invented before. You can apply for a patent to protect your invention. Then, you devise an image that contains a picture of a few olives and some olive branches for the packaging. You don’t want anyone else using that picture or modifying it for their own purpose, so you copyright the picture. You begin using that logo to identify your product, and you register your logo as a trademark to protect your exclusive right to do so.