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

Many people get copyrights, trademarks, and patents confused.  And then there are trade secrets.

Trade secrets, as the name implies, are secret processes or methods used in the manufacture or creation of a product.  This means that they are never registered with a governmental agency and published like copyrights, trademarks, and patents are registered.  In fact, to make a trade secret public is to lose it.

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.

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.  

Trade secrets are not that common and therefore not as well known or not litigated as much as other forms of intellectual property.

Law Offices of Douglas Clark Hollmann

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