Although there may be some similarities among patents, copyrights, and trademarks, these types of intellectual properties are distinct and serve different purposes.  In short, Patents protect ideas & inventions, Trademarks protect brand identity, and Copyrights protect creative expression.


A patent for an invention is the grant of a property right to the inventor, issued by the US Patent and Trademark Office. The term of a new patent is generally 20 years or less from the date on which the application for the patent was filed in the United States.  The right conferred by the patent grant is the right to stop others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention in the United States or importing the invention into the United States.  For example, if an inventor patents a method for intaking new clients on an interactive website, nobody else can use that method while the patent is in effect.  This is regardless of whether or not the method was in fact independently invented, and whether or not the second inventor sells anything remotely similar to the patented inventor.  

One reason there remains so much confusion between patents and trademarks could be because patent attorneys, who need to be specially certified in order to practice patent law at the US Patent and Trademark Office, like to boast about their certification, even when talking in refernence to trademark practice, which requires no such certification.  This leads the general public to muddy waters between these two highly distinct areas of law, as well as to believe such attorneys are better qualified to practice trademark law, which is entirely unfounded and downright misleading.  


A copyright protects the particular form of expression rather than the subject matter of the work. With regard to brand protection, a Copyright might protect the overall look & feel of a website or the specific rendering of a logo design.  For example, if a company uses an elephant as its logo, copyright would only protect the particular depiction of that elephant anywhere, whether as a logo for a competitor or a website banner for someone's non-commercial personal website.  By contrast, trademark law would protect any image of an elephant, regardless of the particular shading, hue, lighting, angles and positioning of the elephant, so long as the second elephant is confusingly similar to the first elephant.  



A trademark is any “thing” – a word, name, symbol or device – which is used in conjunction with the advertising or sale of goods or services, if that thing is able to distinguish one source of goods/services from those sold by others.   Trademark rights may be used to prevent others from using a “confusingly similar” trademark.  Companies are free to sell identical goods, so long as their Trademarks are not too similar.