How Do  Patents  Differ From Copyrights, Trademarks & Trade Secrets?

Many people get patents, copyrights and trademarks confused.

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.  

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 what happens to that copy 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.

A trade name is a name used by a business to identify itself.  Apple Computer is an example.  A trademark is any name, word, symbol or design used by a business to identify its goods and distinguish them from those sold by other businesses.   The apple with a bite out of it used by the Apple Computer Company is an example of a trademark .  A service mark is a mark used to distinguish the services offered by a company from those of other businesses. An example is Amerimaid, a company that provides cleaning services.

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 is far 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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