What’s the difference between copyright, trademark, and patent?

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Copyright: A copyright protects an author’s original literary or artistic work, whether published (meaning distributed to the public) or unpublished (not distributed at all or only to a few people). Under copyright law, the term “author” has a special meaning: the creator of an original literary or artistic work.

Trademark: A trademark protects a word, phrase, symbol, or device – the mark – used in commerce to identify and distinguish one product from another. Each state has its own state laws to protect intrastate commerce. And the Lanham Act provides protection throughout the country. Unregistered marks are protected under state and federal case law.

Service Mark: A service mark protects a word, phrase, symbol, or device – again, the mark – used in business to identify and distinguish one service from another. So for example, every time you see the golden arches you know it identifies products and services from McDonalds.

The purpose of trademark law is to avoid consumer confusion so a similar “M” used for a fast food chain would probably constitute infringement. Think “McDowells” in Coming to America.

Patent: A patent protects an invention by granting the inventor the exclusive right to exclude others from producing or using the inventor’s discovery or invention for a specific period of time.

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