What is the difference between patent, trademark and copyright protection?

Trademarks, copyrights, and patents protect different types of intellectual property. A trademark typically protects brand names and logos used on goods and services. A copyright protects an original artistic or literary work. A patent protects an invention. 

Patents and Trademarks

Introduction to Patents and Trademarks

United States Patent and Trademark Office logo

What is a patent?

 A patent is a property right granted by the Government of the United States of America to an inventor “to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States” for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted.

The USPTO defines 3 categories of patents:

  • Utility: This is the most common type of parents. It may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers a "new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter". Utility patents are divided into three types: mechanical, electrical and chemical. Pharmaceutical patents are considered to be chemical patents)
  • Design: A design patent may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.
  • Plant: A plant patent may be granted to anyone who "invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant"
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) grants utility and plant patents for a period of 20 years and design patents for 14 years. To extend the life of a patent, the inventor must pay maintenance fees to the USPTO. 

In order for a patent claim to be valid, it must be:

  • Useful: the invention serve a useful purpose. 
  • Novel: The invention must be original
  • Non-obvious: The invention must be significantly different from existing items. 

What cannot be patented?

  • Laws of nature 
  • Scientific principles
  • Physical phenomena 
  • Abstract ideas
  • Inventions that are not useful (such as a perpetual motion machine)
  • Literary dramatic, musical and artistic work. These may be copyright protected. See the Copyright tab to the left.