If you’ve written a book, started a business or have a really great idea for a new invention, you might have some confusion about whether you need a copyright, patents or a trademark to protect your rights.

If you have an original written document, such as a story, poem or article then you would be granted a copyright. Patents are for physical and/or conceptual inventions; and trademarks will protect a business logo or slogan, or a character. It is worth noting, however, that you cannot copyright, patent or trademark an intellectual idea, an existing English language word or idiom, or any property that too closely resembles someone else’s copyright, patents or trademarks.

Artwork also would receive a copyright. Trademarks would be needed only if that artwork was for a business application such as a corporate identity (logo), or a character created for a work of literature, art or media, or for advertising applications specific to a company or product.

There is no such thing as a “copyright patent.” Patents are an entirely different application of protective law. A patent is used to protect a physical product, or the concept or plans for a physical product or invention. Patents don’t automatically give you the right to create this object, but they do limit the ability of others to create or profit from this concept in the U.S.

Depending on whether you are applying for a copyright, patents or a trademark, there are some different processes that you will go through. When you create a work of literature or art, you are granted full copyright protection and no further action is needed. However, proving that you own this property is another thing entirely. You can copyright your work through the U.S. Copyright Office, which currently costs $45.00 per work for full Federal protections. Though sending your work to yourself through the mail in a sealed, postmarked envelope will work as well. Just remember, don’t ever open that envelope unless you are needing to defend your copyright and are standing in front of a judge in court, an open envelope will prove nothing.

If you have described an invention in words on paper that does not mean you need a copyright. Patents will need to be awarded by the U.S. Government in order for you to be protected under United States Patent Law. Getting a patent is fairly straight forward and unless your product is contested or complex, you may not need to hire a patent lawyer. The longest and most expensive part of the process can be the patent search. Before a patent can be awarded, the U.S. Patent Office will need to conduct a patent search for similar inventions. The amount of time a researcher must spend looking through records will generally determine the cost of your search fee.

It is important to note that copyright, patents, or trademarks awarded in the United States are only for protection in the U.S. and its territories, and places that have agreements in place with the U.S. Depending on your project, additional copyright, patents or trademarks may be desired.

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