For many innovators starting up a venture or expanding their ideas into new areas, patents and trademarks are key to protecting their innovations. So, what’s the difference between a patent and a trademark?
Patents are granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for inventions that are new, useful and nonobvious. A patent thus protects your inventions, whether they relate to a new composition, a new way of making something, a new method of doing something, or the like. We have all heard about patents protecting pharmaceuticals, food products, medical devices, etc. A granted patent gives the patent owner the right to exclude others from making, using, selling, offering to sell, or importing their invention for a period of 20 years.
The purpose of patent law is to reward the investment to researchers and inventors for their innovations. Patent law is a give and take: the inventor must disclose how to make and use their invention in a patent, and in exchange for disclosing this information, they gain exclusivity for a defined period of time. The goal of the US patent system is to spur innovation by publishing patented technology so that others can use that technology to continue the innovative process.
A trademark is a distinctive word, name, symbol or phrase that is used in trade with goods to identify the source of the goods and distinguish them from the goods of others.
Think of some famous trademarks, such as Nike® and Target®, for example. When you see either the names of the companies, or even the “swoosh” or “bullseye” symbols associated with them, you immediately think of the particular goods provided by each company. A powerful brand tells the consuming public exactly who you are and the quality of the goods (or services) you provide.
Trademark laws help consumers identify and purchase a product based upon whether its specific quality meets their needs. From the trademark owner’s perspective, trademark protection ensures that you have the exclusive right to use that mark to identify your goods or services.
Unlike patents, trademarks can last forever, so long as the owner continues to use the mark in trade and files the required renewal documents every 10 years. In a broad sense, trademarks promote enterprise by rewarding owners with recognition for the quality of their goods or services. This quality is often referred to as “goodwill” that is created and cultivated by the trademark owner.
Patents and trademarks work hand in hand to protect your innovations, so that you can continue your creative work and reap the rewards. A good patent and trademark strategy takes time to develop, but the time is well worth it. Before hitting the market with that new innovation, be sure to consider how to best protect it through patents and trademarks.
Karrie Weaver practices intellectual property, trademark, patent, and trade secret law.