The Difference Between Patents, Copyrights, and Trademarks

Patent attorney minneapolis

Are you looking for an intellectual property lawyer to help you get a trademark on something? Or maybe you need an intellectual property lawyer to get your invention patented. Or maybe it’s a copyright that you need an intellectual property lawyer for. Or maybe, you have no idea what the difference between a trademark, copyright, and patent are, you just know you have a million dollar idea and you want to be the one to make a million dollars off of it. This is what you need an intellectual property lawyers for.

Although we cannot predict whether your intellectual property is going to make you rich or not, we can help you understand what type of intellectual property lawyer you need:


The Difference Between Patents, Copyrights, and Trademarks


Understanding Trademarks

  • What It Is:

    Trademarks are designed to protect the brand of your business or product. This might be the name or slogan of your business. Your trademark would cover your logo and product design. A trademark can even cover a smell or color. Anything that identifies your business and distinguishes it from your competitors would be covered by your trademark.


    You might have heard the term “service mark.” This is almost interchangeable with trademarks, except they protect the identification of services rather than products.
  • How Long It Lasts:
    A trademark can last for the lifetime of your brand, if you maintain it.
  • Example:
    The slogan, “Where a kid can be a kid” for Toys R Us is a trademark. The golden arches that are synonymous of McDonald’s is a logo trademark. NBC’s chimes are a trademark sound. The smell of Gain laundry detergent is a trademark smell.

Understanding Patents

  • What It Is:

    A patent protects your invention from being created by, used by, or sold by another person in the United States, or from being imported into the United States for a predetermined length of time.

  • How Long it Lasts:

    The length of time a patent is protected for depends on the type of patent your patent lawyers help you get:
    • Utility patents cover the function of an invention, or improving the function of an older invention. This type of patent is valid for 20 years from the time it is issued.
    • Design patents protect the visual aspect of the invention, if the value of the product is its appearance. A design patent is valid for 14 years after it is issued.
    • Business method patents protect the way a system, process, or procedure is conducted. This is commonly used for software development or interfaces. A business method patent is valid for 20 years.

Understanding Copyrights

  • What It Is:

    A copyright protects a work of art that your create, whether it’s a written work, a theatrical piece, a piece of music, are a physical piece of artwork, or other types of intellectual creations. Even if a piece of work is never published, it can be protected with a copyright. Having a copyright on your intellectual property prevents other people from:
    • Creating copies of your copyrighted intellectual property.
    • Create their own intellectual property that is derived from yours (such as a sequel to your book).
    • Make money from your art without your consent (such as selling it, renting it, leasing it.
    • Performing your work in public, if your copyrighted item is a performance-based work of art, such as a written, choreographed, or musical piece.
    • Presenting your copyrighted work in public (such as showing your movie at a public venue)

  • How Long it Lasts:
    A copyrighted piece is protected from the moment you create it, throughout your life, and for 70 years after your death. If you created a copyrighted piece with someone else, you’ll share the copyright for the extent of 70 years after the death of the last person. If you created a piece of art anonymously or under a pseudonym, it is protected for 120 years from the date it was created, or 95 years from the date it was published (in case a piece of artwork laid hidden for 121 years, it is not free for public use the moment it is published), whichever is shorter.


    Although a copyright protects your art from the moment it is created, it’s important that it is registered with with the federal copyright office, so that someone else can’t rip it off and claim they had it first.

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