Difference Between Copyrights & Patents

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••• sign of the copyright, silver bevel symbol image by PaulPaladin from Fotolia.com

The difference between copyrights and patents is the type of property they protect. Copyrights and patents are legal designations granted to intellectual property holders, designed to protect such property from being copied, sold or used in any way without owner authorization. Intellectual property can include inventions, certain types of discoveries, written or recorded work, paintings, drawings, plans, designs and other original creations and ideas.

What is a Copyright?

A copyright protects intellectual property as described by the U.S. Copyright Office. Works of authorship —Books, plays, music, software, artwork, architectural drawings, maps and similar works— are protected under copyright laws automatically by virtue of their creation. Registration of the work is recommended in the event the copyright is infringed upon or ownership is questioned, but is not necessary under United States and most international copyright laws.

What is a Patent?

A patent is a property grant issued to owners of intellectual property, as described by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, usually an invention or certain types of discoveries (mathematical equations and product formulas for example). Patents provide the patent owner “the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention in the United States," according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Registering for a Copyright

Copyright registration involves filing the proper form obtained from the U.S. Copyright Office and submitting it with the required fee and work sample. The Copyright Office does not compare new works with those previously registered by others, and only serves to provide dated evidence in cases of infringement or misuse. When infringement lawsuits are filed, the courts make the final ruling by comparing the works in question. When misuse suits arise, the court relies on copyright registration dates to prove ownership.

Applying for a Patent

Patent applications can be complex and costly, and patent attorneys are often consulted to assist inventors. A patent search is perhaps the most labor-intensive process and involves searching through past patents to ensure that the property has not already been patented. Abstract definitions, detailed drawings, inventor information, inventor claims and specifications are required, and it can take up to several years for a patent to be issued.

Read More: Examples of Patents

Length of Protection

Patents expire after 20 years of issuance to encourage competition and innovation. Copyrights expire depending on a number of factors, including whether the work was published or unpublished, the year of publishing and the type of author. For example, protection of an individual author's work published after 2002 expires 70 years after the author's death. If the work is owned and published by a corporation, copyright expires 95 years from date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever comes first. Work no longer protected under copyright or created by any government office for civil use is considered in the "public domain" and may be used freely.

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