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How are trademarks, patents, copyrights created?

For many people, trademark, patent and copyright protection are something of a mystery beyond the general idea that they indicate different types of intellectual property protection. For those who don’t understand the ins and outs of intellectual property law, exactly what these protections do, and how they are created, is not often accurately understood.

Many people are aware that there is a federal agency dedicated to keeping track of trademark, copyright and patent protection. That agency is the United States Patent and Trademark Office. What exactly, though, are the protections offered through this agency and are these protections necessary to safeguard intellectual property? For those who create intellectual property, these are practically important questions.

First of all, trademark, copyright and patent protection work differently since they apply to different areas of intellectual property. Trademark protection applies to words, phrases, symbols and designs used to distinguish one source of goods or services from other sources of goods or services. Trademark protection pertains to brand names and logos. Copyright protection applies to “original works of authorship,” which can include literary, musical, dramatic, artistic and other types of works, whether published or not. Patent protection applies to inventions, whether for new, nonobvious, useful processes, machines, articles of manufacture, material compositions, or ornamental designs of articles of manufacture.

The terms of protection are different for each category of intellectual property. Under federal law, utility patents last for 20 years from the date of filing, while design patents last for 14 years. Copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years, or for 95 years from the date of first publication, depending on the type of work. Trademark protection lasts as long as the business continually uses the trademark in association with goods or services.

Trademark, copyright and patent protection differ with respect to the extent to which state law protections apply, and this touches upon the issue of exactly when intellectual property rights are created, as well as how they are enforced. We’ll continue looking at this issue in our next post.


USPTO, “Patent FAQs,” Accessed August 9, 2017.

USTPO, “Protecting Your Trademark: Enhancing Your Rights Through Federal Registration,” Accessed August 9, 2017.

United States Copyright Office, “Copyright Basics,” Accessed August 9, 2017.

USPTO, Basics of Patent Protection, Sue A. Purvis, Accessed August 9, 2017. 

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