You know you have something worth protecting. But what kind of protection do you need? Do you trademark or copyright your business name? Do you copyright or patent your graphic design? Do you patent or trademark your product packaging? While sometimes more than one option is possible, there are general broad distinctions that can help you know what you need.
A trademark is a word, phrase, image, sound, scent, unique packaging design, store design elements, or a combination of those, that is used to identify a source of goods or services and distinguish it from others. It is a key part of branding for a business. A trademark generally protects branding, such as business names, logos, product names, and slogans. Think of the Nike Swoosh, the Apple logo, the Amazon name with the smile/arrow below it, or the FedEx logo that uses the letters with color and a “hidden” arrow.
Service marks (for services rather than goods), collective marks (for use by members of a group or organization, such as United Way), and certification marks (for use by entities meeting certain standards, e.g., Underwriters Laboratories, Inc.) are types of trademarks, and all are generally referred to under the umbrella term “trademark.”
Copyrights help you assert ownership and rights to original works of intellectual and artistic expression, including written works such as books, pamphlets, or magazines; artistic works such as movies, photographs, music, drawings, paintings, live performances, and sculpture; and commercial works such as software programs, business plans and charts, websites, graphic designs, and data compilations.
A patent is a right, granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) That prevents others from legally using, making, selling, or importing an invention into the United States for a limited time.
There are three kinds of patents:
- Utility patents, which protect the way a new and useful manufactured item, process, machine, composition of matter, or any improvements to those things, is used and works;
- Design patents, which protect the way an article of manufacture looks; and
- Plant patents, which protect an invention or discovery and asexual reproduction of a new variety of plant.
For example, when Apple created the iPhone, it registered utility patents for the various components and processes of the phone itself, as well as design patents for how the phone looks, and trademarks for the iPhone brand name, the Apple logo, and various apps on the phone’s operating system (see https://www.apple.com/legal/intellectual-property/trademark/appletmlist.html for a very long list of Apple trademarks).
When Netflix creates a new film or tv show, it registers a copyright for the film or shows themselves, while the film is marketed and distributed in connection with the Netflix brand trademarks. Meanwhile, Netflix has a long list of patents that cover the technology behind how it gets its videos to the consumer (see https://help.netflix.com/en/node/25888).
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