Patent, copyright, or trademark are all different types of intellectual property (IP) protection. So it is important to understand the differences before deciding which type of protection is best. In some cases, more than one type of protection may be available. It depends on what needs to be protected. Learn more about intellectual property (IP) in our patent attorney videos.

Should you file a patent, copyright, or trademark?

Let’s start with the basic definitions. Visit the U.S. Patent Office glossary for more definitions of important intellectual property terms.

Patents grant the exclusive right to make, use, and sell an invention.

Patent rights are granted by the government. As such, patent rights are typically limited to a particular country. For example, a U.S. patent is granted by the U.S. government. A U.S. patent grants the patent holder the exclusive right to make, use, and sell and invention in the United States. However, a U.S. patent has no effect in other countries. It may be important to file for a patent in more than one country. Learn more about patents.

Copyrights protect original works of authorship.

Examples of copyrights include literature, drama, music, paintings, sculptures, and audio visual works (for example, movies). Copyright protection grants the owner exclusive rights to distribute, make copies, and to make derivative works. Copyright does not protect ideas or inventions. Copyright also does not protect titles, recipes, or slogans.

Trademarks identify the source of goods or services.

A trademark is any word, phrase, symbol, or graphic design (or a combination) which identifies the source of goods or services. A trademark does not necessarily grant exclusive domain over a word or combination of words. Rather, the trademark has to be used to identify the source of goods or services.  Learn more about trademarks.

Some words or words cannot be protected by trademark. Generic words cannot be protected by trademarks.  An example of generic words that cannot be protected by trademark is “gas station” when used to identify a gas station.


So now that we have a better understanding of the differences between a patent, copyright, or trademark, it should be easier to decide which type of intellectual property protection to apply for.

A single product may be protected by one or all of patent, copyright, or trademark protection.

A product has is an invention may be subject to patent protection. For example, a toothbrush might be patentable (design patent or utility patent – or both). That same toothbrush may be packaged with illustrative instructions for proper use. Those illustrations may be subject to copyright protection. The toothbrush may be marketed under a name for the toothbrush. That name may be subject to trademark protection.

Be sure to consider all aspects of any new product to ensure that everything has been protected.