To Trademark, to Copyright or to Patent?

When it comes to protecting our intellectual property, our creations and our inventions, the law is very strict and clear on what and how we can achieve our goals. But sometimes, things get confusing, especially in the face of infringement accusations and theft of the said properties. To get things clearer, let’s see the differences between trademark, copyright and patent and exemplify some cases.

The Trademark is about the name and the source of a product

Under the regulations of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, people can patent a name, a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identify and distinguish the source of the goods of one party from those of others.

We are surrounded by trademarks, logos and even catch phrases from all parts and stumble upon them on a daily basis. Coca – Cola, Microsoft, McDonalds, Paco Rabanne, these are all recognizable trademarks. There are, however, other trademarks that are less obvious: brand slogans, for instance, such as Nike’s “Just do it” can be the subject of trademarks, as well as personal catch phrases (don’t be too surprised), such as boxing announcer Michael Buffer’s old time famous phrase “Let’s get ready to rumble!”

Trademarking a name means that other people can sell similar products and services just as you do, but they are not allowed to use your name or a similar name that can mislead consumers and cause your company problems. For instance, there are famous legal trademark infringement cases when big brands such as Victoria’s Secret, Starbucks or Microsoft appealed to the courts of law to determine other companies such as Victor’s Little Secret, Sam Bucks or MikeRoweSoft to change their company names or website domains.

In the same manner, if you are producing a video game and you want to insert “Let’s get ready to rumble!” whenever two opponents are on the battlefield, you should contact Mr. Buffer’s trademark attorneys. The USPTO has a variety of rules regarding what can and cannot be trademarked (for instance: descriptive terms, misleading terms, user’s interface, surnames, flags, Coats of Arms or sovereign insignia, geographically descriptive terms and so on. You can read this and expand your knowledge on the trademark laws and the categories subjected to trademark policies.)

The copyright is about the product

Nobody will sue you for selling your own written books, photographs or music, as long as they are not sold under the name of “A Game of Thrones”, “Afghan Girl” or “My Heart Will Go On.” Basically, the legal context of copyright (according to LawMart) can be resumed as follows: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.

History witnessed a lot of legal battles regarding copyright infringements, and the musical industry is full of them (George Harrison vs. Bright Tunes Music Corp.), but recent cases involved the movie industry and even the toy making industry.

If you have a work of your own that needs protection, the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress is the place where you can start asking questions regarding the matters.

The Patent protects the invention

Say you invented a new type of automobile, a new computing device, a new type of electronic cigarette, a mechanism, a substance or a medical gadget. They all need protection but within some limits. The General Information Concerning Patents website within the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office explains things thoroughly: “the right 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. What is granted is not the right to make, use, offer for sale, sell or import, but the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, selling or importing the invention.

This doesn’t mean that two individuals or two companies cannot invent the same product (unknowingly of each other) or technology and sell them, but it means that they both need to get their facts straight regarding the patent protection, patent expiration and international possible patent infringements.



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