What's The Difference Between A Copyright, A Trademark, And A Patent?

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If you're a small business owner, your company's livelihood likely relies on specific intellectual property. For example, a restaurant may use unique recipes, or a software design firm might utilize proprietary programs to create products for clients. You don't want a competitor getting a hold of your intellectual property and using your designs or products, so you'll need to file for a copyright, trademark, or patent to protect your company's assets. This helps ensure that you can hold anyone who steals your intellectual property responsible. However, you'll need to know which legal tool offers the right protection for your needs.

1. Copyright

Although copyrights, trademarks, and patents are all forms of intellectual property, there are specific differences under the law. Copyright applies to an original work created by your company or someone who works for your company. Legally, a copyright protects "original works of authorship" such as songs, books, articles, visual art, and other creations that can be published either physically or digitally. A publishing company, for example, owns the copyright for books that it prints and sells in stores or online. If you have a creation that you want to copyright for your small business, an intellectual property lawyer can tell you the steps needed to protect your work.

2. Trademark

While a copyright typically protects an entire work, a trademark is used to legally protect something on a much smaller scale, such as a logo or catchphrase. Most importantly, trademarks help customers identify businesses and differentiate their products and services. For example, if your small business produces a unique line of shoes, you'll want to trademark the name and/or logo of the shoe's brand name. If another company starts selling knockoffs of your shoes and using your logo, they'll violate using your trademarked brand without permission. An intellectual property protection attorney can explain your options for filing suit against that competitor to prevent them from making any more profit off your company's ideas or reputation.

3. Patent

An additional type of intellectual property is a patent. Most commonly used in manufacturing, a patent proves that your company created a specific design and owns the rights to make products with that design. Patents are regulated by the government to protect inventions and designs, ensuring that competitors can't profit off others' designs. If your company has a unique manufacturing process, such as a specific machine for producing those unique shoes, then an attorney may help you file for patent protection.

While these three types of intellectual property offer legal protection for your ideas and products, filing one time won't protect your company's assets forever; each type has limits that mean your copyright, trademark, or patent could expire. Be sure to work closely with an attorney so that you understand these limits and ensure your assets are always protected.