Well, Actually, Everyone Has Questions About IP: The Difference Between Trademarks, Copyrights, and Patents

Nobody likes a ‘well, actually.’ Obviously, I don’t interrupt strangers when they’re having a nice time, but I sure would like to.  I once overheard a man at a cocktail party say, “I really should trademark my songs.” Well, actually, you need to copyright those.  I also overheard someone else comment on how much she liked a certain logo.  “I’d love to patent something like that.” Well, actually, you’d trademark that.

But even my inner monologue must give credit where it’s due: patents, copyrights, and trademarks all fall under the umbrella of intellectual property.  What’s the difference?  Well, actually…

Trademarks:

Trademarks are words, symbols, or a combination of the two that signify the source of goods and services.  You can also trademark sounds and scents.  In ancient days, a craftsman would sign the product he produced.  As technology and commerce advanced, those signatures became more sophisticated and evolved into trademarks.  Take the MGM lion, for example, or the Nike swoosh.  They indicate who made the product.  The public relies on the trademark the same way consumers used to rely on a craftsman’s signature.  United States trademark registrations are generally renewed every ten years.  Trademark owners have the exclusive right to use their marks in commerce for the goods and services named in their trademark registrations. 

Copyrights:

Copyrights protect the content of artistic works like songs, novels, poems, television shows, and movies.  Copyright owners also have the exclusive right to use, and permit others to use, the copyrighted material.  Distribution of copyrighted material without specific permission from the copyright owner can sometimes result in takedown notices, demand letters, and even lawsuits involving substantial sums of money. Further, incorporation of copyrighted material in your own content may have similar undesirable results.

Patents:

Patents protect inventions, like new products or new technical processes.  Inventors in myriad industries may patent their inventions for commercial use, from pharmaceuticals to software to shoes.  They protect the patent owner’s exclusive right to use the invention in commerce.  The patent owner decides who, if anyone, may use the invention for the protected period of time.  Some owners guard their patents closely, and some release their patents for others to use for a price or for free.  Patents usually last for 20 years before the invention becomes part of public domain.

Well, Actually…

Think of it this way, Apple patents new cell phone technology.  It trademarks the name and logo for the new technology. And if Apple wants to use a song for the commercial, they’ll get permission from the band who holds the copyright to the song.

If you are interested in filing a trademark application, or wish to enforce your trademark rights, we can help you. If you have questions about how to copyright your original works, or how to use copyrighted materials, we can help you with that too. If you have questions regarding patents, unfortunately, that is the one thing we cannot directly assist you with, although we are happy to provide you with a referral to an appropriate patent attorney.

To determine if you need a patent, trademark, or copyright, contact us at trademarks@fghwlaw.com, or by calling us at 214-361-5600.


Lesly C. Evans joined Farrow-Gillespie Heath Witter in 2014. The following year, she began her education in Paralegal Studies at El Centro College in Dallas. Upon graduation from El Centro, Lesly passed NALA’s nationally recognized Certified Paralegal exam. Ms. Evans received an advanced certification from NALA in e-discovery in 2019. She has extensive experience in contract database management and assists with contract preparation. She also focuses on trademark prosecution and maintenance, and Title IX litigation. 

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