When people contact me for help with copyrights or trademarks, they are often confused or mistaken about which area of law their issue falls under. For example, someone will ask me about copyrighting their company name or book title (that’s trademark law), or trademarking their invention (that’s patent law), or getting a patent for their art piece (that’s copyright law). To help reduce the confusion, here’s a quick summary of what copyrights, trademarks, and patents are and what each protects.
Copyright – Copyright law protects creative expression, such as books, art, movies, and music. It gives several very specific rights to the copyright owner, such as the right to copy (hence the name “copyright”) that are exclusive to them. The idea is to promote creativity and creative works and allow people to profit from their creations. Since the idea is to encourage creativity, only the creative expression can be protected, not the underlying facts or ideas.
Trademark – Trademark law protects a seller’s brand in the marketplace. Anything that serves as a source identifier for goods and services can function as a trademark – for example, a company or product name, logo, slogan, or even a specific sound or color if people associate it with your company. Trademark law prevents two competitors from having similar trademarks to confuse consumers, and it prevents people from selling knock-offs that consumers think are genuine (to the extent anyone can). The idea is to let consumers know who they’re buying from and allow sellers to build a reputation in the marketplace, so consumers want to buy from them.
Patents – Patent law protects inventions, formulas, processes, and the like. If you’ve come up with a new chemical formula, built a new machine, or come up with a better way to slice bread, it would probably fall under patent law. Patent law prevents anyone else from making or selling the patented product or idea for a limited time so that the inventor can profit from his creation.
If you are still confused about which is which, you can view my videos on these subjects on my YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_CBZdIJWT9CthtY6oyWvnA).
If you watch my videos and are still unsure which area applies to your issue, you are welcome to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.