Industry expert Tony O'Lenick distinguishes between patents, trademarks and copyrights.
A patent is the grant of a property right to the inventor who invents or discovers a new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof. The patent confers “the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling” the invention in the United States or importing the invention into the United States. Patents protect inventions.
A trademark is a word, name, symbol or device that is used in trade with goods to indicate the source of the goods and to distinguish them from the goods of others. A servicemark is the same as a trademark except that it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than a product. Trademarks protect the mark under which goods and services are sold.
A copyright is a form of protection provided to the authors of “original works of authorship” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and certain other intellectual works, both published and unpublished. The copyright protects the form of expression rather than the subject matter of the writing. For example, a description of a machine could be copyrighted, but this would only prevent others from copying the description; it would not prevent others from writing a description of their own or from making and using the machine.
For more information on patents and intellectual property, check out the book Patent Peace of Mind by Louis C. Paul and Anthony J. O’Lenick .