Simplified Relationship between Patents, Trademarks and Copyrights

Type of Protection Utility Patent Design Patent Copyright Trademark
What is Protected Functional features of process
machine, manufactured item or
composition of matter
Ornamental appearance
of articles of manufacture
writings, photos, music
labels, works of art, software
any graphic
Words, names, symbols
shapes, or devices
Criteria for Protection New and “non-obvious” New and “non-obvious” Originality as to author Used to identify and
distinguish goods or services

Common Law: Adoption
and Use (sometimes
secondary meaning required)

How to obtain rights Granted only by Fed. Gov’t.
U.S. Patent Office
Granted only by Fed. Gov’t.
U.S. Patent Office
Automatic upon creation Federal registration:
Use or intent to use in
interstate commerce

Common Law: As long as
property used as a mark

Life Time ? 20 years from date of
14 years from date of
Federal Grant
95 years Federal Reg: 10 years
(If formalities complied with)
Renewable for 10 year periods
Test of Infringement Making, using, reporting
or selling in U.S. devices
embodying the claimed
Designs look alike to eye
of ordinary an observer ?
Substantial portion copied ?
Substantial similarity ?


This chart is an over-simplified comparison of Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights. Each of the words used above is a term of legal art and the subject of extensive litigation. The chart is intended only for very basic analysis.