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Copyright, Patent, Trademark...What's The Difference?

Posted on in Intellectual Property

"Patent," "trademark" and "copyright" are all common terms, woven into American culture and frequently mentioned in the news. However, many people still have only a fuzzy idea of how these three terms differ and when each type of protection applies.

Can you patent a book? Is a copyright the little symbol you see after a well-known slogan? Can a trademark protect the name of your rock band?

Copyright.gov provides the basic facts you need to know to make sense of it all:

Patents — These protect inventions, new products and discoveries. If you design an improved jet engine or develop a unique weight-loss drug, for example, you can seek a patent to protect your innovation.

Trademarks — These protect artistic designs, phrases, words and symbols that set your company apart. For instance, if your Santa Clara potato chip company uses the slogan, "The Very Crispiest, The Very Best," you can apply for a trademark to prevent other businesses from using the same slogan.

Copyrights — These protect "original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression." This includes books, poems, paintings, plays, songs and movies. It can even include certain architectural designs and computer software.

Of course, not everything falls into a nice, neat category, and not everything can be protected by law. You may come up with a novel recipe for "California Coconut Kahlua Cake," but you cannot copyright the ingredient list. If the recipe is part of a one-of-a-kind cookbook you are publishing, however, it may fall under copyright law.

Because the laws are complex, consider consulting an attorney skilled in intellectual property rights matters to learn more. Our San Jose lawyers are here to answer your questions.

State Bar of California NYSBA Santa Clara County Bar Association US Department of Homeland Security US Court of Appeals US Patent and Trademark Office
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