Copyright vs Trademark vs Patent: Which One Do You Need to Register?

If you have created an original work, you must consider protecting your intellectual property. If you don’t, others can steal it and use it for their own purposes.

If you have made a creation don’t postpone legal protection. But which is the correct protection for your creation?

What are the differences among copyright vs trademark vs patent? Which is right for your creation?

We’ve prepared this guide to outline the differences between these three protections. Use it to decide what you’ll need for your creation.

What To Know About Copyright vs Trademark vs Patent

Use this guide to get a basic understanding of these three protections. We want you to understand that these laws are far more complex. You must seek legal help when choosing to protect your creation.

Especially, if you end up applying for a patent you should definitely consult with an attorney first.

Now, let’s look deeper at these three protections and what they are used for:


The idea to protect an original creation was first enshrined in Article I Section 8 of the US Constitution. The Founding Fathers realized the importance for authors to benefit from their creations. Copyright laws have been updated throughout history and are always subject to change or updating.

The basic rules of copyright include that the creator of the original work has the exclusive right to the work. This includes the right to duplicate, sell, and perform the work. They also have the sole authority to grant others permission to use the original work.

Only tangible mediums and digital works can have copyright protection. Ideas cannot have copyright protection. So for example, a screenplay for a film — whether in printed format or PDF can have copyright protection but the idea of the story cannot have copyright protection

Copyright protection in the United States currently lasts for the duration of the author’s life plus 70 years. After this period, the work will become part of the public domain and accessible by anyone.

There is no international copyright law but different nations have agreements to respect each other’s copyright law. So for example, a film copyrighted in the USA cannot be used by anyone in the UK without permission from the copyright holder.

Simply putting the copyright disclaimer within your work is sufficient to state that it is copyrighted. However, if you register your copyright with the US Copyright Office you will have the added protection of the government — which will be crucial if your copyright is ever infringed. If you’re under any doubt about copyright laws or need more information, there is more here to guide you through the specifics.


This is a legal protection created in 1946 by the US Congress. Trademark exists to differentiate a brand, model, or original creation from others. It is solely to protect the name — or the source — of the creations.

This makes it easy for a consumer to differentiate between different creations. While any original work can be copyrighted, there are stringent criteria for trademarks.

The only way to register a trademark is through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Unlike copyright, simply putting the ‘TM’ initials after the name of your creation does not register a trademark.

The trademark can also only be used by the trademark holder. For example, only Coca-Cola can use the trademark ‘Coke’ to describe their products. A similar soda company that produces a cola cannot refer to their product as ‘Coke.’

If you want to protect your original creation and your name, then you want to consider a trademark.


If you want to protect a unique invention or prototype, you want to consider a patent. A patent is a legal protection that has a limited duration — usually between 15 to 20 years depending on the invention.

It ensures that for that duration, only the patent holder can use the specific method and materials for creating an invention. Others will have to be granted permission from the patent holder if they wish to use the method and materials for their own invention.

Patents have the most stringent criteria. These are used for machines, materials, manufactured articles, chemical compositions, etc.

So What Is Right For You?

You have to decide what protection is appropriate for your creation. If you have made a unique machine, you might want to register a patent for the machine so others cannot copy it. You might also want to trademark the name of the model and/or brand so others cannot use it to describe similar inventions.

If you have created a work of art (book, film, music, etc.) you want to copyright it. You might also want to trademark certain aspects of your creation. If you are writing a series of detective novels, you might want to trademark the name of the detective so other writers cannot write novels using this character.

If you are going down the copyright route, you might also want to consider alternative protections such as Creative Commons. This protection makes it much easier for others to distribute your work without having to always request your permission.

Some licenses under Creative Commons also allow derivative works to be created. Some grant all users permission to profit off your work or their derivative work. These are more suited for artists who wish to make their content as accessible as possible.

You also want to consider if you want to pass on your intellectual property. As copyright expires 70 years after your demise, you can use the help of an attorney to pass on the copyright to your heirs. This way, your heirs can enjoy the profits of your intellectual property. They will have the sole authority to grant permission for others to use the creations.

Protect Your Intellectual Property

Now you know the basic differentiations between copyright vs trademark vs patent. You may need one, two, or all three for what you have created. You should consult with an attorney to decide what protections you should register for your original works.

We encourage you to share this guide with other creators you know so that they can know how to protect their intellectual property.

Be sure to read more great content on technology and business on our website.