Skip to main content

“If I can’t trademark my patent, can I copyright my trademark?”

Recently, a client asked, "If I can't trademark my patent, can I copyright my trademark?"

"It's not uncommon to confuse the three," I replied.

Patents, trademarks, and copyrights are three types of protection for different forms of intellectual property. Patents, trademarks, and copyrights are three types of intellectual property protection. They are different and serve different purposes. Patents protect inventions, and improvements to existing inventions.

Trademarks include any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination, used, or intended to be used in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from goods manufactured or sold by others, and to indicate the source of the goods. Service marks include any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used, or intended to be used, in commerce, to identify and distinguish the services of one provider from services provided by others, and to indicate the source of the services.

Copyrights protect literary, artistic, and musical works.

A patent for an invention is a grant of property rights by the U.S. Government through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The patent grant excludes others from making, using, or selling the invention in the United States. A utility or plant patent in force on June 8, 1995, is subject to either the 17 year term from grant or the 20 year term from earliest effective U.S. filing date, whichever is longer. A design patent term is 14 years from patent grant. The right conferred by the patent grant extends throughout the United States. The terms "Patent Pending" and "Patent Applied For" are used to inform the public that an application for a patent has been filed. Patent protection does not start until the actual grant of a patent. Marking of an article as patented, when it is not, is illegal and subject to penalty.

A patent cannot be obtained on a mere idea or suggestion. Patent applications are examined for both technical and legal merit. Prior to filing a patent application, a search of existing patents can be conducted at the USPTO Patent Search Room or at a Patent and Trademark Depository Library in your area.

A trademark includes any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination used, or intended to be used, in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from goods manufactured or sold by others, and to indicate the source of the goods. In short, a trademark is a brand name.

A service mark is any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used, or intended to be used, in commerce, to identify and distinguish the services of one provider from the services provided by others, and to indicate the source of the services.

A copyright is a form of protection provided to the authors of "original works of authorship" including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works, both published and unpublished. The 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to reproduce the copyrighted work, to prepare derivative works, to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work, to perform the copyrighted work publicly, or to display the copyrighted work publicly.

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. Copyrights are registered by the Library of Congress' Copyright Office.

There are times when you may desire a combination of copyright, patent and trademark protection for your work. You should consult an attorney to determine what forms of intellectual property protection are best suited to your needs.

Rate this guide


Recommended articles about Business

Can’t find what you’re looking for?


Post a free question on our public forum.

Ask a Question

- or -

Search for lawyers by reviews and ratings.

Find a Lawyer