3D illustration of a folder, focus on a tab with the word infringement. Conceptual image of copyright law. Concept: Copyright vs Trademark vs Patent
Timothy R
By: timothy-ronaldson
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Copyright vs Trademark vs Patent: Which One Do You Need?

One of the many important decisions a small business must make is what the best fit is for them: copyright vs trademark. It is essential for business owners to protect their intellectual property in addition to all the other physical assets they have. 

The challenge, though, is not understanding that protecting intellectual property is essential, but determining what method is best for doing so. There are differences between copyright vs trademark as well as a patent, and each type of protection will provide different things.

This article will tackle each type of protection that is offered to you as a small business owner so you can determine which would be best for your particular situation.

The importance of intellectual property

Intellectual property is: 

A unique work, creation or invention that is made through an individual’s creativity, it could be a film, a book, a product, an idea, etc. It can be protected, legally, through Trademarks, Patents, and Copyrights.

Intellectual property is the creation of the mind. In business terms, this could refer to a business name, a product invention, or even the design of a company’s logo. 

The major challenge to intellectual property is that someone can easily steal it. If you do not protect your intellectual property by deciding on copyright vs trademark (or even patent), it may prove difficult for you to prove that you came up with an idea, business name or logo design.

This could make you very susceptible to business fraud, to someone else profiting financially off your ideas and, ultimately, to them filing for intellectual property protections and shutting you out of business entirely.


Patent idea protection horizontal banner set with copyright flat elements isolated vector illustration. Concept: Copyright vs Trademark vs Patent. Designed by macrovector / Freepik

Copyrights protect original works that are created in a fixed form, according to the U.S. Copyright Office. This could include “literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and certain other intellectual works.” 

In this vein, businesses have the ability to copyright books, audio/visual materials, plays, or reports it creates.

Original works get automatically copyrighted. However, to be able to sue for damages should another party steal your work, you’ll need to file for copyright registration through the U.S. Copyright Office.

Once you have filed for copyright (which requires you to fill out a form, pay a fee, and send a copy of the original work to the Copyright Office), then you’ll be able to obtain the copyright and hold exclusive rights to reproduce your work. 


Patent idea protection horizontal banner set with copyright flat elements isolated vector illustration. Concept: Copyright vs Trademark vs Patent. Designed by macrovector / Freepik

Just like copyrights, there is a federal government office that handles trademarks, which is called the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Unlike copyrights, a trademark protects “words, names, symbols, sounds or colors” that distinguish a product from those that are manufactured and sold by other businesses. 

In this vein, you would use a trademark to protect your business name, its logo, its slogan, and other essential items to your company or brand. 

To receive a trademark, you first must search to make sure no one else has registered your company’s name or other things you wish to protect. You may even want to consult an attorney for trademark applications since it can sometimes get complicated and have grey areas.


Patent idea protection horizontal banner set with copyright flat elements isolated vector illustration. Concept: Copyright vs Trademark vs Patent. Designed by macrovector / Freepik

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office also issues patents, but they are specifically for the protection of inventions. You can file for and receive patent protection for things such as machines, industrial processes, chemical compositions, and manufactured articles, to name a few. 

To receive a patent, your invention must be fully developed, and no one else must already have a patent or have filed for a patent for a similar invention. 

There are four main types of patents, including:

  • Utility patent, which protects inventions that serve a specific function.
  • Design patent, which protects things such as a unique aesthetic or shape of an object, basically the non-functional parts of your invention.
  • Plant patent, which protects any flowers/vegetables you may have created, discovered, or reproduced.
  • Software patent, which protects software creations.

The type of patent you are seeking will determine how hard it is to get, the process you must go through, and how complicated the entire process is.

Copyright vs trademark vs patent: the main differences

The differences between copyright vs trademark vs patent have subtle nuances, but they are critical when you are seeking to protect your intellectual property.

 💡  Copyright Trademark Patent
What does it protect? A copyright will protect your creative work that was uniquely your idea. It could be reproduced by others with royalties paid to you in exchange A trademark will protect the parts of your business that help define what your brand is. A patent protects an invention that you created. It could be reproduced by others with royalties paid to you in exchange
Examples of protected works It is mostly for works that would be considered artistic in nature, such as books, music, and videos. This will include the unique creation of your product’s name and logo, for example. It can protect machines, processes, inventions, and manufactured articles.
How long does it last? Copyright protections typically last for the life of the creator if it is for an individual. Copyrights last either 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation (whichever is shorter) for works created either pseudonymously or anonymously. Trademarks do not have a set expiration date. As long as you continue to use the item that you have trademarked, it will remain trademarked. You will have to pay ongoing fees and file supporting documents, though. Design patents last for 15 years from the original date of issuance. Utility and plant patents last 20 years.

Copyright vs trademark vs patent: in real life

Even with a detailed explanation, it may be difficult to truly understand the differences between copyright vs trademark vs patent, and when each would be needed to protect intellectual property. 

An easy example would be to take a publishing company:

  • The authors that have books published would use a copyright to protect the books that they created. 
  • It would use a trademark to protect the name and logo of the company
  • And it would use a patent to protect the proprietary printing process that they have created.

FAQs on patents, copyrights, and trademarks

Do trademarks expire?

Because a trademark distinguishes brands, they do not expire, as long as the business maintains the trademark registration.
If you have a trademark, you will have several deadlines to maintain it (5 years after getting it, nine years after getting it, and, after that, every ten years).

How long does a copyright last?

For published works, the copyright lasts as long as the author lives plus an extra 70 years.

Is it better to copyright or trademark a logo?

While copyrights to protect original artistic works. Trademarks protect all the aspects of a brand or a product.
That’s why a trademark is what you need to protect your business logo.

Protect your creative work!

One of the most important things that you can do as a small business owner is to protect your intellectual property. This can include everything from your company name and logo, to the works you sell, to the processes or inventions you create. 

Understanding the importance of protecting your intellectual property is only step one, though. Step two is to understand what type of formal protection you need to acquire for each type of intellectual property you have, and then obtain that proper protection from the appropriate government entity. 

It’s imperative to understand the differences between copyright vs trademark vs patent. Doing so is just one aspect of being an informed small business owner and protecting the intellectual property that you worked so hard to create.

Being in the know is one of the most vital things you can do as a small business owner. We at Camino Financial know that, which is why we work so hard to educate and inform the small business community we serve. 

In fact, it’s a major way we live up to our motto of “No Business Left Behind.”

Subscribe to the Camino Financial Newsletter today, and join a community of entrepreneurs just like you who are passionate about building a legacy in business.

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