Trademarks, Patents, & Copyrights—What’s The Difference?

People often confuse trademarks, patents, and copyrights. Together, they form what is generally referred to as “intellectual property” or “IP”, but they protect different aspects of your business, and are governed by different rules.

A trademark protects brand names and logos on goods and services, such as brand names, slogans, and logos. A copyright protects original artistic or literally works, such as novels, songs, films, software, and architecture. And lastly, a patent protects inventions, such as machines, industrial processes, and chemical compositions. Sometimes you need all three, sometimes you only need one.

Your specific needs vary on a case-by-case basis. For example, if a pharmaceutical company released a new drug, it may apply for a patent on the chemical process of the medicine, a trademark for the brand name, and a copyright for the advertisement of the medicine.

They also have different durations. A patent is limited in its duration, design patents last 15 years if filed on or after May 13, 2015 and 14 years if filed before then. Utility and plant patents last 20 years from the date on which the application was filed in the United States, but in some cases, from the date an earlier related application was filed.

Copyrights are also limited in duration, for works created by individuals, protection lasts for the life of the authors, plus 70 years. For works created anonymously, pseudonymously, and for hire, protection lasts 95 years from the date of publication, or 125 years from the date of creation, whichever is shorted.

By contrast, with the right maintenance trademarks can last forever. That’s because trademarks are based on actual use. Therefore, if you continue to use the mark in commerce to indicate the source of goods/services, and file specific documents to maintain the mark, the trademark can last forever.

For more information on finding out what your intellectual property rights may be, visit our website at or give us a call at (828) 322-7741.