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What Is the Difference between a Copyright, Trademark, and a Patent?

Orange County trade secrets attorneyIf you are a successful business owner, you undoubtedly understand the hard work it takes to get a business off the ground and to the point where it is showing a profit. Once your business reaches that point, you must remain vigilant to ensure that your business remains successful. That often entails securing a copyright, trademark, or patent to help build brand recognition and/or to protect trade secrets that contribute to the success of the business. An Orange County trade secrets attorney at Brown & Charbonneau explains the difference between a copyright, a trademark, and a patent in an effort to help you recognize which one you might need.

Intellectual Property Basics

Copyrights, trademarks, an patents all fall under the purview of the area of the law known as “intellectual property.”  The law recognizes three basic types of property that you might own, or in which you may share an ownership interest. The first type of property is “real” property which refers to land and anything attached to it. The home you live in, the commercial building where your office is located, or the empty lot where you hope to build an office are all examples of real property. Next is “personal” property which refers to property that is moveable. Your household furnishings, the vehicle you drive, or the boat you plan to purchase all fall into the category of personal property. Finally, the last category of property is referred to as “intellectual” property. Intellectual property is defined as any product of the human intellect that the law protects from unauthorized use by others. The artwork on the walls of your home or office, an invention you use in your business, or the book you just finished reading are all examples of intellectual property. You can own intellectual property just as you own real and personal property; however, because intellectual property is not always tangible, the concept of copyrights, patents, and trademarks evolved as a way to protect your rights to intellectual property.

Copyrights, Patents, and Trademarks Explained

As a business owner, you may find the need to protect intellectual property. The first step in protecting that property is recognizing how it can be protected. That, in turn, requires you to understand the difference between a copyright, a trademark, and a patent so you know which one to use for the property you wish to protect.

A copyright protects original works of authorship in a fixed form including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. If you write a book, for example, you would apply for a copyright to protect your rights to that book. In today’s electronic age, copyrights are also frequently needed for computer software designed specifically for your business.

A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. If your goal is to create brand recognition, you may create a trademark. The Nike “swoosh” or Apple computer’s apple with the bite out of it are examples of famous trademarks that almost everyone recognizes. Similar to a trademark is a service mark. A service mark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than goods. Think of the Starbuck’s or McDonald’s sign which are both universally recognizable. Although they are technically different, the process for procuring and protecting trademarks and service marks are basically the same.

A patent provides property rights to an invention which includes the right to exclude others from using the invention in exchange for public disclosure of the invention. For example, if you invented a new method of filtering tap water, you might seek a patent to protect your rights to the exclusive use of that invention for the life of the patent.

How Do I Obtain a Copyright, Trademark, or Patent?

While there is no doubt that a copyright, trademark, or patent can go a long way toward protecting trade secrets and building brand loyalty, navigating the application process can be frustrating and time-consuming. Protecting against potential threats or unauthorized use of your copyright, trademark, or patent can be equally difficult. The key to successfully applying for, and subsequently protecting, your copyright, trademark, or patent is to work closely with an experienced trade secrets attorney.

Contact Orange County Trade Secrets Attorney

If you have additional questions or concerns about protecting your intellectual property in California, it is in your best interest to consult with the experienced Orange County trade secrets attorney at Brown & Charbonneau as soon as possible. Contact the team today by calling 714-406-4397 to schedule your appointment.