Understanding the differences between patents, trademarks, and copyrights is essential for any creative entrepreneur. A thorough grounding in the concepts and definitions of these basic protections for intellectual property will provide you with a solid basis for protecting your inventions, creative works, and corporate reputation. Enlisting the help of a business attorney or a patent agency, such as InventHelp patent services, is an important step in ensuring your intellectual property is secure, but it’s equally important to inform yourself about the various methods by which individuals and companies can safeguard their creative efforts and protect their financial interests.
Within the United States, patents are granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for inventions. A patent offers the holder exclusive rights to an original process, machine, or invention or to any significant improvement to an existing patented process. Patents may be awarded for biological inventions or discoveries, for software processes or programs, for new chemical processes or compounds, and for business processes that are markedly original or unique. Patents do not confer the right to manufacture the invention, but rather prevent others from manufacturing it for a set period of time, usually twenty years. In some cases, a patent holder may not be legally entitled to manufacture the device; this usually occurs in cases where the patent is granted for a significant improvement to an existing patented device. Without obtaining permission from the patent holder for the existing device, the holder of the new patent cannot manufacture the improvement. Such patents are generally either sold or retained until the original patent expires.
Trademarks are the easily recognizable symbols and signs of a particular individual, business concern or organization. Trademarks are divided into three categories: unregistered trade marks, unregistered service marks, and registered trademarks. Typically, unregistered trade and service marks are only valid in a limited geographical area; registered trademarks are protected throughout the country in which the trademark was granted. Trademarks are used to identify the makers of products and the providers of services in the consumer market; as such, they are valuable commodities and should be protected against imitation. Registered trademarks must be obtained through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and offer significantly more legal protection to their holders than other types of trade and service marks.
One of the most inclusive and versatile types of intellectual property protections, copyright confers exclusive rights to authors of creative works, including plays, works of fiction, maps, musical compositions, works of art, photographs, motion pictures, dance choreography, architectural blueprints, and software. Unlike patents, copyright does not protect the ideas or concepts within the work, but only the way in which those ideas are expressed. For instance, copyright protections apply to the “look and feel” of certain works of art and software programs, protecting their stylistic elements without protecting the subject matter with which they deal.
Copyright is obtained automatically upon setting the material down in a fixed form such as print, canvas, or digital media. While copyright is the easiest form of intellectual property protection to obtain, it can be the hardest to defend. It is usually advisable to seek help from professionals, such as InventHelp patent invention agency, or legal counsel in order to protect your creative rights.