Richard L. Miller

What a Patent Is

A patent is an inventor’s deed to his or her invention.  The patent allows the inventor to exclude others from manufacturing, using, importing, exporting or offering for sale the invention.

A patentable invention must have a useful purpose, and either be used or work in a new way, or have a new appearance.  For creations with only a new appearance, there must be a utilitarian purpose to the invention, or it will be considered a sculpture or work of art, which is subject to copyright.

In order to obtain a US patent one must apply before the United States Patent and Trademark Office, which may approve or deny the application.

What a Copyright Is

A copyright is a creator’s right to their work of art.  It gives the owner the right to prevent others from copying the work in whole or in part, with an exception for what is called “fair use,” such as quoting from a book in a book review.

Almost any written, audio, or visual material can be copyrighted, including books, movies, songs, t-shirt designs, and sculptures, and many other items.  Attaching new imagery or text to an old piece of technology is an example of where a copyright may be the only protection available to an inventor.

Copyrights are considered to be granted upon creation, however filing for a copyright creates an absolutely provable date for any future claims, as well as allowing the copyright owner to get larger damages from infringers.

What a Patent Isn’t

A patent is not a deed to any text or slogan that us associated with an invention, nor does it protect such things as t-shirts, buttons, and stickers, because while the art on these articles may be new, the technology involved is not new.  Patents do not generally cover the text or art on an article, unless that indicia works with the physical structure of the article in some way.

What a Copyright Isn’t

A copyright is not a deed to an invention.  If your creation involves any new physical parts of a utilitarian purpose, then a copyright will not protect those components, and a patent is the protection you need.

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Please note that on rare occassions some creations may be protected by all three types of intellectual property protection: a utility patent, a design patent, and copyright protection.