Intellectual property includes any idea, design, product, or manuscript produced by a creative process. The protection of this property occurs through the use of trademarks, copyrights, and patents. Although these three terms can be confusing, it’s important to understand each fully to ensure that you can properly protect your ideas. Anyone who creates content, such as writers, musicians, and artists, will have to protect their creative efforts. Inventors and business owners also must use these legal safeguards to protect their work and symbols associated with companies. It’s also important for everyone to understand intellectual property law to prevent the improper use of someone else’s work, which is against the law.
Overview of Copyrights
Copyrights are the vehicle used to protect creative works. These works can be books, screenplays, lyrics, music, paintings, photographs, designs, and more. Works do not need to be published to be protected by a copyright. The copyright owner is the only person with legal rights to reproduce and distribute the work. A copyright owner also owns the legal right to create a derivative of the original work, to hold a public performance of the work, and to display the work in a public place. When a sound recording is copyrighted, the owner of the recording is the only person who can perform the work publicly unless the copyright owner grants permission. A copyright can also be applied to the description of an invention, thereby protecting the written description but not the actual invention. If a copyright infringement occurs, the copyright owner can initiate a legal dispute to obtain monetary relief.
- Stopping Copyright Infringement
- Copyright Information
- Copyright and Other Restrictions That Apply to Publication/Distribution of Images
- Copyright and Trademark Infringement Offenses (PDF)
- Frequently Asked Questions About Copyright
- Prosecuting Intellectual Property Crimes (PDF)
Trademarks and Service Marks
Logos, designs, words, and devices that are associated with the sale of products are known as trademarks. Service marks are similar to trademarks, but they pertain to logos or designs associated with the sale of a service. Trademarks are created to represent a company or an individual, serving as a recognizable symbol of the person or company. Trademarks are also used to differentiate specific products from other products. A trademarked item can still be replicated, but other people or companies cannot use the same trademark to identify it. Trademarks are an important form of identification, serving to convey information to consumers about the source and authenticity of a product. Registration of a trademark is not required to protect it as intellectual property; it is possible to establish common law rights to a trademark based on use of the symbol in commerce. However, a federally registered trademark ensures that all exclusive rights and legal presumptions are provided for.
- Trademarks, Service Marks, and Insignia
- Trademarks and Service Marks: Frequently Asked Questions
- What Is a Service Mark?
- Trademark/Service Mark Frequently Asked Questions (PDF)
- Selecting and Registering a Trademark
- Guide to Trademark and Service Mark Use
Overview of Patents
An inventor can petition the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for a patent to protect a new invention. The most common types of patents are known as utility patents and design patents. A utility patent applies to a process, machine, item, or composition of matter that is both new and useful. Utility patents can also apply to a new and useful improvement of any of these things. A design patent applies to a new, unique design of an item of manufacture. A design patent protects the inventor’s rights to the invention. To obtain a patent, the inventor needs to prove that the invention is new, useful, and fully unique. A new patent remains valid for 20 years, during which time the patent-holder maintains legal rights to prevent anyone else from reproducing or selling the patented item.
- The Relationship Between Basic and Improvement Patents
- What Is a Patent?
- Frequently Asked Questions: Patents
- Overview of Patents
- Information About Patents (PDF)
Telling the Difference Between Copyrights and Trademarks
Copyrights are used to protect authored or created works such as art, music, film, performance arts, and writing. Trademarks apply to single words, phrases, and logos used with merchandising of a good. Some situations may require protection with both a copyright and a trademark. For example, when designing a logo for a business that includes artwork or a photograph, full protection of this intellectual property would include a copyright of the artwork or photo and a trademark for the words, phrases, symbols, or design.
Applying for a copyright or trademark involves specific processes. To apply for a copyright, the applicant pays a filing fee and a short registration period ensues. The U.S. Copyright Office will perform a review of the forms and application before approving the copyright. Registering for a trademark is a more expensive and lengthy process because the federal trademark office conducts an exhaustive review to make sure that the trademarked content is unique and not like any other trademarked content.
After receiving a copyright for content, the content is subject to licensing and royalty fees for the duration of the copyright period. Thus, any use of the copyrighted content will incur a fee. Trademarks do not have this distinction. In addition, even if someone has already purchased the copyrighted content for personal use, if they want to use the content in a different manner (such as holding a public viewing or using it in a published video), the user would need to pay a licensing fee to the owner of the copyright to use the content.
- Trademark, Patent, or Copyright?
- Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights (PDF)
- Copyright, Trademark, and Patent Law: An Overview of the Intellectual Property Framework in the United States Constitution (PDF)
- Copyright or Trademark: What’s the Difference?
- A Material World: Using Trademark Law to Override Copyright’s First-Sale Rule for Imported Copies (PDF)
- Protecting Your Ideas: An Overview of Intellectual Property Law (PDF)
- Trademark FAQs (PDF)
- Ten Ways to Protect Your Intellectual Property