Patents & Trademarks (How They Are Different from Copyright)

Copyrights, patents, and trademarks are considered to be "intellectual property." Patents give inventors the exclusive right to duplicate their invention's design. Patents cover devices, formulas, tools, and anything that has utility. The recipe for a unique sausage can have a patent. To get a patent, you must apply to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and submit the invention's design. You must show that the design is unique. A patent examiner will determine if you are entitled to a patent. If so, a patent is granted that prohibits anyone else from making, using, offering for sale, selling or importing the invention. A patent lasts 20 years.

A trademark is a word, phrase, or logo that identifies a product, a service, or the person or company that offers a product or service to the public. You must apply to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to register a federal trademark. If your trademark is registered, you can generally prevent anyone else from using a mark that may confuse the public about who offers the product or service. There are also common-law trademarks that are automatic in the area where the product or service is being advertised, unless a federal trademark has been previously registered.

Copyrights apply to art, music, plays, movies, literature, and scholarly works. They are automatic and require no registration or other formality. They prevent others from copying the work. Copyrights last for the artist's or author's life plus 70 years.

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