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Patents, trademarks, copyrights: what’s what?

Many times, patents, trademarks, and copyrights work together, and it can quickly get confusing. Take Anna, for example. She has just started an online business selling a toy she made for blind dogs. She calls the toy “the Bark and Beep.” She calls the business “Puppy Playnovation.” The website has photos and videos of her dogs playing with the toys, accompanied by cute stories. Anna wants to protect her intellectual property but she doesn’t know where to start.

Anna has a copyright in her photos, videos, and stories. Trademark is Anna’s best bet for the name “Bark and Beep” for identifying the toy and “Puppy Playnovation” for identifying her business. Finally, Anna may want to seek patent protection for the toy she made for blind dogs.

Here’s a quick general primer:

Copyrights are fixed, unique expressions of ideas—you may want to think about this as arts. You may see a copyright notice© on certain things like movies, pictures, books. In fact, the copyright statute talks about literary works (written things), musical works, dramatic works, pictures, graphics, sculptures, sound recordings, motion pictures, choreographic works, or architectural works.

Trademarks are for identifying the source of a product or service. You may have noticed a word or logo with a TM or ® next to it. This means the word is identifying a source of a product or service, like the name Coke ® on a can of soda. You may see trademarks used in advertising, product identification, service identification, or even in domain names.

Patents are for new and useful inventions. It may be a concrete thing having parts like Anna’s toy (the patent office calls this a “machine”), an article made of raw material giving the article new forms (the patent office calls this a “manufacture”) like Anna’s new innovative dog biscuits, or two or more substances that make something having new properties (“a composition of matter”). Anna may also be able to seek patent coverage for the process of building the toy.

Each of these types of protection has its own nuances, for example: how protection is obtained, how long it lasts, and how it can be enforced against others. Feel free to contact any of our intellectual property attorneys if you have questions.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided is for general informational purposes only. This post is not updated to account for changes in the law and should not be considered tax or legal advice. This article is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship. You should consult with legal and/or financial advisors for legal and tax advice tailored to your specific circumstances.

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