Patents, trademarks, and copyrights are all registered under the federal government which makes it easy for people to think the three are just about the same and get easily confused on how to use each one properly. The biggest difference between the three lies in the rights that they equip owners with and makes knowing the operational difference between these all the more important for owners. No two situations are alike which is why you have patents, trademarks and copyrights available as three different options to protecting intellectual property.

Knowing the applications, strengths, and weaknesses of these three will best help to protect your business for a wide variety of situations and benefit the business in the process. But before you start working with patents, trademarks, and copyrights, it’s important to know how each one varies from the other.


If you’ve been looking for the strongest law governing intellectual property, patent law is what you should look for. Patent law is based upon a stricter liability standard which makes it the strongest of the three. The knowledge on the patent doesn’t make much of a difference to the treatment of the violator, but the biggest question of importance is whether or not an infringement on the patent claims has occurred and how you should go about taking action.


  • Speaking of patents, they have a very strong relationship with reverse engineering. It is through reverse engineering that one comes to know if the patented inventions are in use by another company.
  •  The protection of the underlying ideas is ensured through patents. Unlike a copyright which works to protect the ways ideas are expressed, patent claims are generally laid upon their mechanisms, principles and components.


  • The biggest weakness of patents lies in their short duration when compared to other tools. Design patents are meant for the protection of the design, shape, configuration and appearance of any invention and are known to last 14 years.
  • Similarly, the utility patents that are meant for the protection of functional makeover and new inventions last no more than 20 years.


Trademarks are media through which businesses ensure their visibility to the world. A logo or name, and not necessarily a description, can be used as a trademark if it brings about the necessary distinction to the business. The following are the strengths and weaknesses of trademarks:


  • Trademarks can be enforced for nearly an unlimited amount of time. Proper use of trademarks makes sure it continues to stay all active and working. There are trademarks that are as old as over 600 years! A German beer company by the name of Lowenbrau has a trademark aging 626 years and is a living proof of how surprisingly long trademarks can survive.
  • Trademarks ensure better protection with the help of longer lifespan that they come with. This gives the owners a peace of mind regarding the protection of their intellectual property. 


  • The trademark law is weak as a whole, but it validates the several exceptions involving fair use as well as competitors’ abilities to approach the mark.
  • Further, it depends on the mark’s inherent strength when it needs to be determined whether or not the competitor is going to be able to produce a mark similar to the original one in case the trademark that is being discussed upon is weak enough from the inside.


Copyrights give people the right to carry out certain operations on some specific materials or products.


  • Copyrights are similar to trademarks in that they offer the benefits of a long protection term. These terms are known to originate right at the moment that these are created. It also takes into account the whole life of the author as well as an additional 70 years after his/her death.


  • The focus is not on the underlying ideas when it comes to copyrights. Fair use exceptions and reverse engineering are common things between trademarks and copyrights. Protection of the expression of ideas is mostly done with the help of these tools.

Intellectual Property – Knowing the applications

It is very important that you keep in mind some of the important strengths and weaknesses of each type of intellectual property. This will facilitate the consultation procedure with an intellectual property attorney and help the fashioning of the portfolio of registrations so that you get the highest level of protection possible.

Proper knowledge on the above three types of intellectual property is going to make it easier for you to apply them appropriately for your business when the need arises. Identify the tool that fits your situation and apply it accordingly. It always pays to prepare well before you take a major leap! 

About the Author

Alden Brooks is the Community Member of Oak View Law Group (OVLG) and has been contributing his suggestions to the Community since 2009. Not just that, he has also made notable contributions through the various articles written on different subjects related to the debt, stock, credit card consolidation, bankruptcy, and more.