When it comes to business, there are certain legal terms that are helpful to know. Unfortunately, making sense of these legal terms isn't always easy. For example, everybody has heard the terms trademark, patent, and copyright before, but many people don't understand the differences between them. While they serve similar functions, the ways in which they're each used varies greatly. If you're starting a business or coming up with a new invention, understanding what trademarks, patents, and copyrights are is important to protect yourself and your work against competitors and potential lawsuits.
A trademark is used when a word, slogan, symbol, or logo distinguishes one company or business from another. For example, if a company has a specific logo that is used to identify their goods, they would have it trademarked so that other companies couldn't profit off the use of it. Unlike copyrights and patents, trademarks don't have an expiration date. Once you file it, you have ownership over it forever. You don't have to trademark words, slogans, symbols, and logos, but doing so has multiple benefits. Having a trademark informs the public that you own the specific mark and that you and only you have the legal right to use it.
A patent gives you a limited property right over an invention or an improvement on an existing invention. The patent is given by the United States Patent and Trademark Office and is given in exchange for disclosing your invention to the public so that it can't be copied. Some concepts that can be patented include machines, methods or processes, manufactured articles, and new compositions. There are three different types of patents: a design patent, a utility patent, and a plant patent. Utility and plant patents are good for 20 years from the date the patent is given; design patents are good for 14 years from the date they're given. To learn more, contact a patent attorney.
A copyright is a legal right that gives authors ownership over their work. Books, songs, plays, and other intellectual property are all examples of works that can be copyrighted. You can only copyright the way something is expressed, you can't copyright facts, ideas, methods, or systems. Copyright differs from trademarks and patents because your work is presumed to be copyrighted the moment it is created. While you don't have to register your copyrighted works, doing so will allow you to bring a lawsuit in the case of copyright infringement. A copyright lasts for 70 years after the life of the author has ended.
While trademarks, patents, and copyrights do have common elements, knowing the differences between them can ensure your ideas, businesses, and inventions have the maximum amount of protection they need.