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Patents, Trademarks and Copyrights
Dear Professor Bruce:
I have a great idea for a new product. What kind of intellectual property protection should I apply for? What types of things can be patented, registered as a trademark and copyrighted?
Brigid Quinn, deputy public affairs director at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office explains the differences. Different types of intellectual property are protected by different means. A patent for an invention is the grant of a property right to the inventor, issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The right conferred by the patent grant is to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention in the United States or importing the invention into the United States. There are three types of patents: utility patents may be granted to any person who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof. Design patents may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture. Plant patents may be granted to anyone who invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant. Patent protection must be sought by application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Trademarks protect words, names, symbols, sounds, or colors that distinguish goods and services from those manufactured or sold by others and to indicate the source of the goods. Trademark rights may be used to prevent others from using a confusingly similar mark, but not to prevent others from making the same goods or from selling the same goods or services under a clearly different mark. Trademarks which are used in interstate or foreign commerce may be registered with the USPTO. Registration with the USPTO is not required, but does provide certain advantages including notice to the public of the registrant's claim of ownership of the mark, a legal presumption of ownership nationwide, and the exclusive right to use the mark on or in connection with the goods or services set forth in the registration.
Copyrights protect original works of authorship, including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and certain other works, both published and unpublished. The copyright protects the form of expression rather than the subject matter of the writing. For example, a description of a machine could be copyrighted, but this would only prevent others from copying the description; it would not prevent others from writing a description of their own or from making and using the machine.
Different types of intellectual property are protected by different means.