While it is possible to invent definitions that draw clear lines between the three major types of intellectual property protection (patent, copyright and trademark), there are complications when it comes to certain innovative and artistic designs. In some cases, a design may be subject to patent, trademark, and copyright protection at the same time.
How Do Patents Differ from Copyright?
With the exception of innovative designs, patents are associated with things and processes that are useful in the real world. Copyright applies to expressive works such as novels, fine and graphic arts, music, records, photography, software, video, cinema and choreography. It’s possible to get a patent on technologies used in the arts, but it is copyright that keeps one artist from stealing another artist’s creative work.
An exception to the general rule that patents and copyrights don’t overlap can be found in product designs. It is theoretically possible to get a design patent on the purely ornamental (nonfunctional) aspects of the product design and also claim a copyright in this same design. For example, the stylistic fins of a car’s rear fenders may qualify for both a design patent (because they are strictly ornamental) and copyright (because of their expressive elements). In practice, however, a product is usually granted either one type of protection or the other.
What Is the Difference Between Patent and Trademark?
Generally speaking, patents allow the creator of certain kinds of inventions that contain new ideas to keep others from making commercial use of those ideas without the creator’s permission. Trademark, on the other hand, is not concerned with how a new technology is used. It applies to the names, logos and other devices – such as color, sound and smell – that are used to identify the source of goods or services and distinguish them from their competition.
In most cases, patent and trademark laws do not overlap. But when it comes to a product design (for example, jewelry or a distinctively shaped musical instrument) it may be possible to obtain a patent on a design aspect of the device while invoking trademark law to protect the design as a product identifier.