Patent, Copyright, and Trademark: Which is Right for You?

Have you come up with a unique new idea? Did you just launch a brand new business? Perhaps you composed a beautiful original song for your upcoming album.

Without some form of intellectual property protection, all of these ideas can be stolen from you.

But, this means you need to determine if a patent, copyright, or trademark protection is right for you.

Do you know the differences?

In this article, we'll show you:

  • The difference between a patent, copyright, and trademark
  • How to protect your ideas from theft and plagiarism
  • How to find the right intellectual property lawyer for your needs

Let's dive in.

What is Intellectual Property?

Before we explore copyrights, patents, and trademarks, it's important to understand what intellectual property is.

Generally speaking, intellectual property refers to creations of the human intellect. This can include lyrics to a song, original research, a non-fiction book, or the name of a company.

There are multiple ways to protect these creations from being stolen, reproduced without your express permission, or encroached upon. These avenues include:

  • Copyrights
  • Trademarks
  • Patents

However, these options are not "one-size-fits-all." It's important to choose the right type of intellectual property protection for your needs.

Choosing Between a Patent, Copyright, and Trademark: Which Is Right for You?

Each type of intellectual property offers specific protections. A copyright for a new novel will not provide the same security for the name of a new product.

Let's explore the differences.


Copyrights are in place to protect original works, such as a painting, song, or written piece. Once the individual creates the original work, the copyright is automatically applied.

Copyrights protect works of artistic, creative, and written expression such as:

  • Paintings
  • Novels
  • Poetry
  • Music
  • Movies and films
  • Architectural design

To receive a patent, the art must have a tangible nature. This means a freestyle rap performed in public cannot be copyrighted.

To protect your copyright, you can find an intellectual property lawyer to help you with the following:

  • Proper marking with a signature or a watermark
  • Mailing the materials to yourself, known as the “Poor Man’s Copyright”
  • Using the © symbol

If you're an artist, a creative entrepreneur, or an individual who produces original work, a copyright will protect your materials from copycats.


Trademarks protect all the elements of a business that distinguish it from the competition. This can include:

  • Logos
  • Wordmarks
  • Phrases
  • Designs
  • Slogans
  • Product names

While a copyright is available once an original work has been created, trademarks must be proven through regular use. When applying for a trademark, businesses must prove these symbols and phrases are already in use throughout their everyday business proceedings. This can include usage on product packaging, service descriptions, marketing campaigns, and more.

Trademarks are in place to protect the identities of each company. This means Dunkin' Donuts cannot use the Starbucks distinct green color. Likewise, Starbucks can't use the phrase "America Runs on..." as part of their advertising efforts.

Companies should always file for a trademark on their various brand elements, especially the company name, logo, and slogans.

Whether you're launching a new business or ready to protect an existing one, a trademark is a necessity for businesses looking to grow. Intellectual property lawyers can help you file for a trademark application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO.)


When you invent a new product, a patent helps protect the technology, design, and other related elements from the competition.

As defined by the World Intellectual Property Organization, a patent is "an exclusive right granted for an invention, which is a product or a process that provides, in general, a new way of doing something, or offers a new technical solution to a problem. To get a patent, technical information about the invention must be disclosed to the public in a patent application."

For example, if you invent a revolutionary new device that flash-chills beverages at home, you can file for a patent. This patent protects all elements related to your original designs, materials, and more related to the invention and effectively prohibits others from taking and using this information without the inventor's express permission.

Filing for a patent can be an arduous process. Having a knowledgeable intellectual property lawyer by your side ensures that your patent application is filed correctly the first time.

Which Type of Intellectual Property is Right for You?

If you're a writer, singer, artist, or creator, a copyright is the right type of intellectual property for your needs.

Those who run a business or are in the process of opening a new company should file for a trademark to protect their brand.

Lastly, if you're inventing a revolutionary new product or technology, file for a patent as soon as possible.

The Next Steps

Understanding the different types of intellectual property is only step one! Now it's time to file for a copyright, trademark, or patent.

However, before you jump into the application, it's best to find an intellectual property lawyer to represent you throughout the process.

What is an Intellectual Property Lawyer and Why Do I Need One?

Intellectual property lawyers (also known as IP attorneys) are legal professionals who specialize in cases, laws, and processes related to intellectual property. These professionals help clients file for the right type of intellectual property protection and safeguard them from any plagiarism or threat to the property.

Working with an intellectual property lawyer provides clients with a variety of benefits, including:

  • Guaranteeing that the copyright, trademark, and patent application process is completed free of errors
  • Drafting, editing, reviewing, and distributing all legal documents and contracts related to your trademark, copyright, and patent
  • Courtroom representation when necessary
  • A third-party individual to consult with on new business or personal opportunities that may require intellectual property protection

While it's possible to file for a patent, trademark, or copyright on your own, the respective application processes are quite nuanced and can take years. Having an intellectual property lawyer walk you through the steps of filing will help ensure that there are no errors or setbacks along the way.

How to Choose an Intellectual Property Lawyer

For the best results and long-term attorney relationship, be sure to find a few lawyers in your area and ask to meet with them. Since lawyers can specialize in a variety of areas, the vetting process will help you find the right intellectual property lawyer for your specific needs.

When speaking with these lawyers, ask questions like:

  • "What type of intellectual property do you specialize in?"
  • "Have you worked with clients with cases like mine?"
  • "What do I need to know about the intellectual property filing process?"
  • "After learning more about my situation, do you have any concerns?"

Ideally, look for local lawyers who have a positive reputation. Check in with your professional network and see if they have recommendations for an intellectual property attorney they've used in the past. Look at online reviews and client testimonials as well. These subjective reviews will help you make a judgment call about which intellectual property lawyer to work with.

Once you've chosen an intellectual property lawyer, it's time to file for your copyright, trademark, or patent!

Your attorney will walk you through each step of the process, from start to finish. If you have any questions along the way, just ask! They're there to help you succeed and protect your original work, business identity, or invention.