The Difference Between A Copyright, Patent & Trademark

May 23, 2012  |  By

Copyrights, Patents, and Trademarks – oh my!

Intellectual property (and we’re not talking about a smart piece of real estate) consists of copyrights, trademarks, and patents. There is a lot of confusion as to the application and distinction of each. Do you have a novel idea? Are you creating a novel? A logo for your business? Or have you come up with a functional product? Once you read the info below, it is our hope that your brain should become intellectual property with regard to each area of law.


A copyright protects original works of authorship. Copyrights are generally artistic, such as a song, a painting, a poem, a novel, a movie, etc. The moment your artistic product is created, it is protected under copyright law and you can put the © next to your work without registering with the USPTO. Registering your work with the USPTO is the least expensive of the intellectual property bunch and provides stronger protection of your creative work.


Patents are more scientific. If there is a specific method you are using and there is substantial function to your idea, then odds are that you need a patent. Patent law is complex, scientific, and expensive. We keep a few patent attorneys in our rolodex as some of our clients need assistance to protect the function of their invention/product.


Trademark law protects trade names, slogans, and logos. Almost all of our clients need a trademark as they have a name, slogan, and/or logo that has been carefully thought out and is seen as their brand and identity. At VW, this is our bread and butter. A trademark is distinguished from a copyright in that a trademark protects the origin of your name, slogan, and logo. On the other hand, a copyright protects your creative works of art, whether they be written, drawn, or sung.

So let’s put all these laws together with one example, and what better way than to use a Nike shoe, perhaps the most recognized brand in the world.

Nike’s shoe technology (Nike AIR) is a patent. The Nike Air bubble is functional and has a scientific purpose. The color of the shoe and design could be a copyright as it is artful in nature. Contrast those with the “Nike” name and logo, and the swoosh on the shoe, as all are trademarks of Nike. You see the swoosh and you know it’s Nike.

With the info above, we hope that when you look at that next Nike shoe in the store you will be able to intellectually recognize each separate intellectual property of the shoe. Just Do It. (“Just Do It” used here under the Fair Use Act, Title 17 of the U.S. Code)

About the Author(s)

Vela Wood

Vela Wood is a boutique corporate law firm with a local feel and a global impact. We focus our practice in the areas of M&A, Private Equity, Fund Representation, and Venture Transactions.