Patents and Trademarks

Patents and trademarks are both intellectual property (IP) rights that are granted to inventors. With an IP right, you have the exclusive right to make, manufacture, license, and sell your invention; use a distinguishing mark on your products and packaging; or public copies of creative works (if you have a copyright).

While both types of rights fall under the same IP realm, these rights generally protect different types of inventions and concepts.

  • Patents, which consist of utility, design, and plant patents, protect an invention that is both new and original; non-obvious; and one that has been used for physical devices. Such physical devices include machinery and electronics. However, newly identified concepts are generally accepted, including software algorithms. Patents last for a period of 20 years. The cost to file a patent application varies depending on the type of invention and industry in which you plan to use your invention.
  • Trademarks protect your brand, whether it is the name of your company, the name of a specific product you sell, your logo, design, symbol, etc. The name itself must be unique, and cannot be a common name such as “mall” or “coffee.”
  • A copyright protects some kind of creative work, i.e. book, poem, article, music pieces, songs, etc.

Facts Regarding Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights

  • Once you write an article, you are immediately protected under copyright law. However, an exception to this rule is if you publish the article in the public domain. If you do this, then you are no longer protected. Essentially, you are publishing your article for the public to see and use.

  • IP laws vary by country, but the principle remains the same internationally. Once a patent, trademark, or copyright is filed in one country, you are offered legal protection in other countries under the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). 

  • While you need not have a patent, trademark, or copyright to run a successful business, it is important to remember that such protections will help you if you come up with innovative approaches and new inventions that you want exclusive rights over. Further, such protections help you run your business and thrive, while also continuing to earn a profit and not having to worry whether or not another person or business will use your invention and thereby infringe upon your patent, trademark, or copyright. 

  • In order to find out if an invention is already protected, you can run a search on the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website. You’ll want to ensure that you run this search before applying for protection. Keep in mind that copyrighted work cannot be searched on the USPTO website. But, you can still run a search in a public search engine to find out whether or not that particular creative work is already being used.

  • Once you begin using a name or logo, you now have ‘common law’ protection over it. In order to ensure that no one else uses it, you should include the ™ symbol after your name or logo. Remember that such protection is limited. Since you don’t have an actual trademark over the name, you’ll still need to obtain trademark protection in order to have full protection.

  • Copyright protection can be made on published and unpublished works. You are protected by copyright once you’ve created the work; therefore, you can use the © symbol while also inputting your name and either the year of publication or the year in which you created the work. Copyright protection is not absolutely necessary, but having an actual legal copyright can provide added protection.

About WIPO

WIPO is a global forum that assists a total of 191 member states in developing policies for the IP legal framework. WIPO is a specialized agency of the United Nations, and it provides business services for obtaining IP rights across several countries. It also helps resolves disputes arising out of IP rights and responsibilities.

If you need help with learning more about patents and trademarks, or if you need help searching for previous patents, trademarks, or copyrights, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel’s marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Stripe, and Twilio.