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A Better Partnership


Apr 2006
April 07, 2006

Patents, Trademarks and Copyrights and the Differences Among Them

Patents, trademarks and copyrights are components of "intellectual property." Each is an intangible property right that cannot be touched.

Patents. A patent protects an invention that is new, useful and nonobvious. A patent is granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). A patent enables the owner the right to control the making, using and selling of the patented invention. There are two types of patents:

  1. Utility Patent. A utility patent protects a product, machine, process, compound, manufacturing technique, or method of doing business. In the U.S., a utility patent lasts for 20 years from the date of filing.

  2. Design Patent. A design patent protects the appearance of an article, and is sometimes referred to as a "picture patent." In the U.S., a design patent lasts for 14 years from the issue date.

Trademarks. A trademark is a word, logo, or other symbol of source or quality. It represents the reputation and goodwill of a business or product. Trademark rights are created by using a mark, and those rights are enhanced by registration. Trademark rights last as long as the mark continues to be used. Trademark rights enable the owner to prevent others from using the mark or a similar mark in a way that would confuse consumers.

Copyrights. A copyright protects an "original work of authorship," such as advertising materials, Web sites, drawings, PowerPoint® presentations, and computer software. Copyright enables the owner to control the copying and distribution of the work. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. Additionally, the copyright can be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. A copyright for an individual author lasts until 70 years after the author's death. A copyright for a corporate author lasts for 95 years after publication.

Patents, trademarks and copyrights are independent rights, and the claiming of one does not preclude the claiming of the others. It is possible for a single product to be protected by multiple rights. For example, a computer software program may be covered by all three. The process may qualify for a patent. The source code qualifies for copyright. And the name qualifies as a trademark.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact your WN&J attorney or Bill Dani at 616.752.2197 or


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