How is a copyright different from a patent or a trademark?
Patents and trademarks differ significantly from copyrights.
A patent protects inventions. These inventions can include new and useful processes, machines, manufactures, compositions of matter as well as improvements to these. Certain computer programs may fall within the subject matter protected by both patents and copyrights. In this respect the patent system compliments copyright protection by providing protection for functional aspects of the software, which are not protected by copyright. Unlike with copyright protection, to get patent protection one must first apply for and be granted a patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Unlike the copyright registration process, the patent application process is expensive, complex, difficult, and time consuming and generally should not be attempted without the assistance of an experienced patent attorney or agent.
A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods or services of one party from those of others. Examples include brand names, slogans, and logos. Similar to copyright, a person does not need not register a trademark to receive protection rights, but there are certain legal benefits to registering the mark with the USPTO and/or the relevant State office. There is occasionally an overlap between copyright and trademark law, for instance, when a graphic illustration is used as a logo the design may be protected both under copyright and trademark. For more information, see Relationship Between Copyrights and Other Forms of Intellectual Property, under Copyright Basics