It is easy to find plenty of information online regarding copyright, trademarks, and patents. Perhaps an overwhelming amount. So this post is just to get you started if you want to look into the various forms of legal protection for your work.
Start with the U.S. Copyright Office, especially their online page of frequently asked questions (FAQs).
How is a copyright different from a patent or a trademark?
Copyright protects original works of expression and authorship.
A patent protects inventions or discoveries.
A trademark protects words, phrases, symbols, or graphic designs that identify the source of the goods or services of one party and distinguish them from those of others.
Ideas and discoveries are not protected by copyright law, although the way in which they are expressed may be.
Nolo Press offers this explanation about the difference between copyright and trademark. "Copyright protects original works of expression, such as novels, fine and graphic arts, music, audio recordings, photography, software, video, cinema, and choreography by preventing people from copying or commercially exploiting them without the copyright owner's permission.
Copyright laws do not protect names, titles, or short phrases. That's where trademark law comes in. Trademark protects distinctive words, phrases, logos, symbols, slogans, and any other devices used to identify and distinguish products or services in the marketplace.
There are, however, areas where both trademark and copyright law may be used to protect different aspects of the same product. For example, copyright laws may protect the artistic aspects of a graphic or logo used by a business to identify its goods or services, while trademark may protect the graphic or logo from use by others in a confusing manner in the marketplace. Similarly, trademark laws are often used in conjunction with copyright laws to protect advertising copy. The trademark laws protect the product or service name and any slogans used in the advertising, while the copyright laws protect the additional creative written expression contained in the ad."
The next destination is the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website. The "PTO" is a separate agency from the Copyright Office. To obtain a trademark, it is usually a good idea to hire professional legal advice and guidance. While the PTO website says that most trademark applications are filed online, a trademark is not as simple as copyright. From everything I have heard, it is expensive and a service typically performed by attorneys specializing in trademarks.
The Trademark search is a significant step. The Nolo Press website has information about doing your own trademark search.
Nolo Press also provides a useful article on Getting a Patent on Your Own if you're interested. Quoting the Nolo Press website: "You cannot get a patent just on an idea. You must show how your invention works and your invention must be new. This means it must be different in some important way from all previous inventions. It also cannot be for sale or be known about for more than a year before you apply for a patent."
This post was updated on January 13, 2022