Copyrights, trademarks and patents all serve a common purpose: to protect a person’s right over an original idea and prevent others from stealing it, claiming it as his or her own, or profiting from it.
However, the terms cannot be used interchangeably. They all refer to a particular kind of work.
Copyright is used to refer to creative works: literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and intellectual. Whether these items are actually published or not, the artist retains exclusive rights to use them and reproduce them, in any medium. This right is mandated through the Copyright Act of 1976.
However, the copyright covers the artistic form, but not the subject. Someone may write a book about the best way to grow roses, but it can’t stop someone else from tackling the same topic—given, of course, that he uses another approach, perspective, and set of examples.
The term trademark, on the other hand, refers to words, symbols, names or devices that are associated with the buying, selling and overall image of a product or service. This trademark can be considered a “unique” or distinguishing factor, like a logo or a tagline, or even a particular way of packaging. Trademarks are filed in the United States through the Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Each submission goes through an extensive review that pinpoints if it does not conflict with an existing one.
Patents, on the other hand, are for inventions. However, it is limited by time (20 years from the point of application) and country it was filed. Once a patent is awarded, the owner has the right to sell, mortgage or license his invention.