Understanding Differences Between Intellectual Property Types

Posted on: 8 September 2015

If you are interested in getting a copyright, patent, or trademark, then you might not be sure which is best for you. After all, each covers a very specific facet of intellectual property, but they aren't always used correctly in media. To help you understand the differences between the three, here is an overview of what each does:


At the most basic level, a copyright protects the rights of the author of some work. Books, movies, plays, journal articles, video games, and a large number of other works can all be copyrighted.

For some period of time after the work has been copyrighted, only the holder of the copyright can reproduce, distribute, adapt, or perform the work. However, if the holder gives express consent, then others may also reproduce, distribute, adapt, or perform the work. For works that are given a copyright today, this period of time is the lifetime of the author plus 70 years. If a copyright is violated, then the holder may sue the offending party. Copyrights may be transferred to another party and can be included in wills.


Patents deal with inventions and solutions to technological problems. The key idea behind a patent is that the protected idea must actually be publicly revealed. The general idea behind such a process is that patents contribute to the knowledge and technological advancement of a country. By publicizing and releasing such inventions, further improvements will be stimulated. In order to protect the holder of patents, that holder may prevent others from creating, using, or selling their invention without express permission.

In order for an invention to actually qualify for a patent, it must meet several criteria.

  • The invention must be new, either in part of whole.
  • The invention must not be obvious.
  • The invention must have a valid use.


A trademark refers to some symbolic element that identifies a brand or the services of a brand. In order to get a trademark, you can either explicitly file for it or develop one through natural usage in the industry.

When considering what you want to use for a trademark, you should be careful about how descriptive and unique your symbol is. For instance, while "Amazing Computers" might accurately refer to your company's prowess at building computers, you cannot trademark such a descriptive term. On the other hand, totally unrelated words such as "Apple" are valid trademarks for an electronics company since the two words are not directly related. Finally, you might want to create a new word or symbol that has no real meaning already. 

For more information, contact an intellectual property attorney in your area.