Copyrights, trademarks, and patents are three of the most well-known types of intellectual property. However, while they are all considered intellectual property, copyrights, trademarks, and patents are all completely different beasts.
A copyright is an original work of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished original works. This protection begins at the moment of creation. For works created by an individual, copyright protection lasts for the individual’s life plus 70 years. Anonymous works are protected for 120 years from the date of creation or 95 years from the date of publication. Works covered by copyright include but are not limited to: (1) literary works (which includes computer software); (2) musical works, including any accompanying words; (3) pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works; (4) motion pictures and other audiovisual works; and (5) sound recordings.
A trademark (TM) is a symbol, word, or phrase that connects a product to a company. A service mark (SM) is a symbol, word, or phrase that connects a service to a service provider. A federal registration gives the owner exclusive right to use this registered symbol, word, or phrase throughout the U.S. (and potentially abroad), and prohibits others from using a similar mark, which could confuse consumers about whose product or service they are purchasing. Trademarks do not expire as long as you continue to maintain the mark and use it in commerce.
A patent gives an inventor exclusive rights to their invention for a certain period of time. To qualify for a patent, the invention must be useful, novel, and non-obvious. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issues three types of patents, and each has a limited duration. A design patent is valid for 15 years from the issuance date while utility and plant patents are valid for 20 years from the date the inventor files the application. Types of inventions that may be patented fall into the following categories: (1) machines, usually with circuitry or moving parts; (2) processes for producing tangible, concrete results; (3) matter compositions, like drugs or genetically altered life forms; (4) articles of manufacture; or (5) an improvement on any of the above.