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How does a copyright differ from a trademark or patent?

If you have created an original work, designed a new product or came up with a logo for your business in California, you may want to consider getting it legally protected through the federal government. Yet, it can be difficult to tell just what form of intellectual property protection you need. With copyrights, trademarks and patents available, you may need some guidance when it comes to choosing which will best meet your needs.

When you create an original work, such as a play, novel, song, movie or computer software program, you may want to apply for a copyright. According to Copyright.gov, even pieces of architecture can be copyrighted in order to ensure no one else can copy the unique design. Copyrights, however, do not protect inventions, ideas, business names or logos.

Inventions and new discoveries can be legally protected with a patent. For example, a certain process or a product can be patented, which means that the person has exclusive rights to that idea or item for a given period of time, depending on what type of patent is given. While design patents can last for up to 15 years from the date the patent is issued, plant and utility patents may last for up to 20 years. Copyrights, on the other hand, can protect original works for up to 120 years, or for 70 years after the creator passes away.

Trademarks have no expiration date, as long as the owner of the mark continues to use the logo, symbol or phrase in his or her business. Trademarks do not necessarily have to be registered with the federal government, but may be protected under common law.

This information is intended to educate and should not be taken as legal advice. 

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