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Trademark, Patent, and Copyright: Understanding the differences

Updated on March 10, 2012

Usually when one hears the words trademark, patent, or copyright they usually think they are the pretty much the same thing. But, there are definite differences between these three words that are used so interchangeably.


Patents according to Shamoo and Resnik, “give exclusive rights to prevent anyone else from using, making, or commercializing their inventions without their permission (Shamoo and Resnik 125).” This protects things such as ideas or other inventions someone makes. However, some places of employment such as universities or corporations can claim your work as their own.



A trademark according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office is, “a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.” This protects things like the slanted Purdue “P” symbol and slogans like Nikes’ “Just Do It.” This stops others from making a profit off other people’s or companies insignias.


Finally, there is copyright which is usually considered the biggest of the three. A copyright is rights that are handed down by the United States government in order to allow an author or creator to use their original works in anyway they want. What this means is that an author of a book for example can copy and sell their book in order to make a profit from it. This goes along the same lines as a painter displaying his work at an art show in order to get recognition. So basically this is put in place in order to protect a person such as an author from getting their creations or developments stolen by someone else. The whole basis for this is money because someone can use your work in order to make a profit which leaves the original developer without monetary justification for their works. However, there is such a thing called the Fair Use Clause which does allow for some flexibility. This clause allows the usage of such materials such as articles or diagrams, but only in terms of educational purposes. This allows for people such as professors to hand out handouts written by others in order to better educate his students. Typically if disputes arise, they are usually handled in civil suits due to so many changing laws and technicalities. People are always finding or trying to find loopholes in order to make some kind of profit off other people’s creations. Currently, sharing music files has come under fire because of its violation of copyright laws. As of recently, the music companies have started suing individuals and are trying to shut down all music sharing programs. This is easier said then done because their in no federal mandate which can stop it currently. This along with 50 million people who are violating these copyright laws will prove it to be a difficult battle for the music industry. So as we have seen, there are definite differences between trademark, patents, and copyrights. However, these violations usually end in the same place, a civil court room.


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