The Difference Between a Trademark, Patent and Copyright

the difference between a patent copyright and trademark the savvy instapreneur small business



With there being so many misconceptions between a trademark, patent and copyright, we grabbed the official definitions from the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Depending on what you sell, you may want to look into any or all of three and see if it is needed for your business. Once your brand becomes popular and recognizable, this is definitely something you will need to look into. 

Here are the basic definitions:

  • Trademark: A word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.
  • Patent: A limited duration property right relating to an invention, granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office in exchange for public disclosure of the invention
  • Copyright: Protects works of authorship, such as writings, music and works of art that have been tangibly expressed.

Now, let's take a deep dive into each...


Unlike patents and copyrights, trademarks do not expire after a set term of years.  Trademark rights come from actual “use” (see below). Therefore, a trademark can last forever - so long as you continue to use the mark in commerce to indicate the source of goods and services. A trademark registration can also last forever - so long as you file specific documents and pay fees at regular intervals.

Each time you use your mark, it is best to use a designation with it.  If registered with the USPTO, use the ®symbol after your mark.  If not yet registered, you may use TM for goods or SM for services, to indicate that you have adopted this as a “common law” trademark or service mark.

EXAMPLES: COCO Chanel, McDonald's Golden Arch, Geico's Talking Gecko, Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band hit single "Like a Rock" (which was used more than years on Chevrolet commercials).


Patentable materials include machines, manufactured articles, industrial processes, and chemical compositions.  The duration of patent protection depends on the type of patent granted: 

  • Design Patents - 15 years from issuance for applications filed on or after May 13, 2015 (14 years from issuance if filed before May 13, 2015)
  • Utility patents and plant patents - 20 years from the date on which the application for the patent was filed in the United States or, in special cases, from the date an earlier related application was filed.

EXAMPLES: an ingredient that speeds the drying of concrete, an artificial heart valve, cell phones, tvs, etc.



The duration of copyright protection depends on several factors.  For works created by an individual, protection lasts for the life of the author, plus 70 years.  For works created anonymously, pseudonymously, and for hire, protection lasts 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever is shorter.

For information on copyrights, please contact the U.S. Copyright Office (link is external)(a division of the Library of Congress).

EXAMPLES: Star Wars movies, Scripts, lyrics, drawings, literary works, etc.



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