How Does Copyright Law Differ From Trademark, 
Patent & Trade Secret Law?

Many people get copyrights, trademarks, and patents confused.  To add to the confusion, there are trade names, trademarks and service marks within the trademark field.  It's not difficult to sort them out, however.

Copyright is an area of the law that deals with who has the right to copy a work (whether it is a book, a record, a videotape, an architectural drawing, a boat, or a file stored on a computer, among many others).  You can buy a book and own the right to do what you want with that copy (sell it, give it away, throw it away, etc.) but you do not have the right to copy the book and give or sell the copies to someone else without the permission of the owner of the copyright.  

Trademarks are marks (trademarks, service marks, collective marks, and certification marks) used by companies and individuals to distinguish their goods and services from those of other companies and individuals.  They can be words (Exxon, for example) or designs (the Apple logo of an apple with a bite out of it) or a combination of both (Coca-Cola).  The purpose of trademark law is to prevent confusion among consumers as to what product or service they are buying.

Patents apply to inventions (the better mouse trap, for example).  They are granted after an extensive investigation by the U.S. Patent Office and last for a finite period of time. The applications are complicated and should follow a patent search to see if someone hasn't beaten you to the idea.  

A trade name is a name used by a business to identify itself.  Apple Computer is an example.  

Finally there are trade secrets.  Coca-Cola is the best example.  The formula for Coke is still secret after all these years.  If you have a process that can be protected, it may be better to keep it secret than try to patent it and only gain protection for a short period of time rather than forever.

Law Offices of Douglas Clark Hollmann

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