Trademark Comparison with Copyrights, and Patents

The categories of intellectual property – Trademarks, Copyrights, and Patents – are often misused by many people and even some attorneys. Each has their own distinct definition and each provides protection over different types of intellectual property with different goals and purposes.  The following is a brief trademark comparison with copyrights and patents:

  • A Trademark is a word, name, symbol, or device used in commerce in connection with goods or services to indicate the source of those goods or services from the goods and services of others. Ownership of a trademark gives the owner the right to prevent others from using a confusingly similar trademark. Additionally, the owner of a famous trademark gives that owner the right to prevent others from diluting that trademark – i.e., trademark dilution. The length of a trademark comes in 10 year terms. When registration is granted, the trademark lasts 10 years, with 10 year renewal terms after the previous term. Trademarks could last indefinitely as long as the owner continues to use the trademark to identify its goods and services.
  • A Copyright provides protection to the author of an original work. The author has exclusive rights for a certain number of years in that original work as well as derivative works. Generally the length being the life of the author plus 70 years.
  • A Patent gives an inventor property rights in his invention. It grants the right to exclude others from making, using, selling, or offering the invention for sale in the U.S. and importing the invention into the U.S. for a limited number of years, typically 20.

Intellectual Property Legal Rights

Each category provides exclusive rights to the owners. These rights can prevent others from infringing upon those rights and damaging your intellectual property.

Trademarks

A valid federal trademark registration will always be used in connection with goods or services in order to indicate source of the trademark and symbolize the good will of that source.  The rights of a trademark owner will only extend to that trademark’s association with the goods and services the trademark is used with or for. Therefore, a registered trademark does not give the trademark owner a monopoly in the use of a word, symbol, or device. The trademark gives the owner a monopoly in the use of a word, symbol, or device which is used in connection with the specific goods or services that the trademark registration covers.

For example, the owner of a “Pumpkin Spice” trademark for “hotel services” may be able to only exclude others from using an identical or similar trademark in the “hotel services” international classification.  This means that using the word phrase “Pumpkin Spice” in an industry other than the hotel industry would not infringe on the “Pumpkin Spice” trademark. Thus, it is nearly impossible for a trademark owner to stop every possible use of the phrase “Pumpkin Spice”.

Copyrights

A copyright protects the original works of an author. This could be a book, musical, picture, news column, architectural works, etc. A copyright gives the exclusive right to copy, distribute, perform, or display the protected work. To compare to a trademark, a trademark protects the subject matter of the work, while a copyright protects the particular form in which the subject matter is expressed.

Trademark Cybersquatting Patents

The goal of a patent is to protect inventions and other discoveries. A patent will grant to the owner the rights to exclude all others from making, using, selling, or offering its invention for sale in the U.S. Patents come in three forms, utility patents, design patents, and plant patents.

Who May Acquire the Rights of a Trademark

Trademark rights may be obtained by the company or individual(s) that uses the trademark in commerce in connection with the goods, products or services.