Getting The Concepts Straight: Patents, Copyrights, Trademarks And Intellectual Property

Since you are browsing, chances are you have an interest in inventions and innovations, so we want you to be as much informed as possible. When dealing with such subjects, there are some concepts that are repeatedly mentioned, regarding the process of developing a new product or brand.

These concepts, such as Patents, Trademarks and Intellectual Property, are often misused, both colloquially as legally, which can lead to some intellectual property and trademark issues. Let's explore more about them.


A patent is a set of exclusive rights given by a sovereign state to an inventor or other assignee. Even though it is a form of intellectual property (which I will discuss more extensively afterwards), the rights given by a patent are limited in time, and they vary according to the rules defined by each country. However, the general premisses for granting a patent are related to the novelty and non-obviousness of the invented product/process.

The most obvious function of a patent, which is also one of the most important rights it provides to the inventor, is the prevention of making, using, selling, or distributing the patented invention by others without permission.


Trademarks are recognizable signs, designs or expressions which represent and identify products and/or services of a specific source from others. They can be owned by individuals and by any other legal entities such as business organizations, and trademarks can be placed in the product itself as well as in its package, label or virtually any place where it is put or mentioned.

There are three different symbols designating a trademark:

  • SM , service mark - used for trademarks which identify a service rather than a product. It is also usually used prior registration.
  • ® , registered trademark - used for trademarks or service marks which have been registered with a national trademark office, providing notice of such fact.
  • ™ , unregistered trademark - used for trademarks which have not been registered with a national trademark office, and therefore not benefiting from the protection afforded by the registered ones.

In short, a trademark protects something representing something that identifies where a product or service comes from.


Probably the most generally discussed term from the ones I mention in this article, copyright is actually more related to works of art, such as music, visual arts, sculpture, and so on. It grants its author exclusive rights over its use, reproduction and distribution, and most of the times is also limited in time.

In a more formal definition, it is a form of intellectual property applicable to any expressible form of an idea or information that is substantive and discrete. The most common rights under the copyright law are the right to be credited for the work, to determine who may adapt the work to other forms, who may perform the work and who may benefit from it in financial terms.

Intelectual Property

Keeping it under a simple definition, intellectual property refers to property or materials developed through creative though and/or ideas, regardless of whether they were developed by the author's spontaneous activity or through a commission. The attribution of the author and ownership depends on the type of property, the details about its origins and the possible existence of other parties in the creation process.

Patents, trademarks and copyrights are all primary rights of intellectual property, and all of them are protected by legislation in most countries.