Trademark, Patent or Copyright – Which One do You Need?

If you or your company has created a unique brand, invention, or other creative expressions, you’ll want to make sure that kind of property is protected. But, how can you protect intellectual property? Do you need a trademark, patent or copyright? How long does each last? Will you need to register with the government?

Read on to find out the difference between trademarks, patents and copyrights, when you need them, and how to get them.

What is a Trademark?

Trademarks protect brand names. They can be used to associate goods or services with particular sources or companies. Trademarks can last indefinitely and do not need to be registered with the USPTO in order to exist, although registration does offer trademark owners several benefits, such as the ability to bring an action concerning the mark in federal court and a legal presumption of the registrant’s exclusive mark to use the mark nationwide on or in connection with their specific goods and services.

What is a Patent?

Patents protect inventions. New inventions can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • A new product

  • A new method

  • A new ornamental design

A patent can last for 20 years from the date of filing. It gives the patent owner the exclusive right to make, use, sell, or import the invention protected by the patent. Unlike trademarks, the only way these rights can be established is by being awarded a patent from the government.

What is a Copyright?

Copyrights protect fixed creative expressions. Creative expressions might include literary, musical, dramatic and artistic works. The duration of a copyright is based upon a fixed duration past the life or the author or simply a fixed duration, if created by a company. A copyright already exists once the work is created, but enhanced protection can be obtained through registration with the government.

Most people who register their copyright, patent or trademark seek out legal assistance from a qualified attorney because in each case, the process is rather complex. If you would like further information about registering or help completing the process, feel free to contact me.



Kelly G. Swartz is a patent attorney licensed to practice in front of the United States Patent and Trademark Office and in the state of Florida.  She limits her practice to intellectual property law including patent, trademark, copyright, and trade secrets.