Difference between a Patent and a Copyright

February 13, 2017 by Editorial Team

The terms patent and copyright are legal designations designed to protect intellectual property rights. Although they fall under the same umbrella, they are far from being interchangeable. To raise awareness about the scope and limitations of these legal terms, this article provides insights on the differences between the two.

Definitions

Issued by the government to protect the right of intellectual property holders, a patent excludes any third party from using, selling or manufacturing an invention or a discovery without the authorization of its owner. A patent is designated to protect machinery, equipment, mathematical equations, chemicals, newly discovered processes and other similar works.

Applying for a patent is a complex and time-consuming process. It involves a thorough study and investigation of previous patents to guarantee that the intellectual property has not been patented. Moreover, to encourage new innovation, a patent expires after around 15 to 20 years from issuance, depending on the type of patent granted to the owner.

copyright

A copyright, on the other hand, serves to protect intellectual property in the form of authorship. By definition, a copyright is a legal designation granted to safeguard musical, dramatic, literary and artistic works. Some of the types of intellectual property protected by a copyright include, but are not limited to, plays, books, artworks, maps, movies, novels, poetry, songs, computer software and architectural drawings.

Copyright registration involves submitting a form and a sample work to the U.S. Copyright Office. Since the Copyright Office does not compare newly submitted work with previously registered ones, the date of Copyright registration serves as proof of ownership in case a lawsuit on copyright infringement arises. Copyright protection lasts for variable lengths of time, depending on several factors.

Comparison

Although they are both issued to protect intellectual property, there are significant differences between the two.

Firstly, a patent and a copyright protect different types of intellectual property. A patent is granted to protect machinery, equipment, mathematical equations, chemicals, newly discovered processes and other similar works, whereas a copyright safeguards musical, dramatic, literary and artistic works, by virtue of creation.

Since they protect different types of intellectual works, patents and copyrights serve to legally protect different kinds of intellectual property holders. Typically, inventors and designers file for a patent, while creative professionals like architects, artists, authors and choreographers register for a copyright.

Moreover, applying for a patent is a costly and time-consuming task since inventors and designers need to hire a lawyer for a complete patent search. Also, they must submit well-detailed drawings, abstract definitions, specifications and claims to prove that their invention or discovery has never been patented.

Registering for a copyright, on the other hand, is a simpler process since creative professionals only need to submit a form and a sample of work and pay a registration fee. When a legal lawsuit is filed, the date of registration serves as evidence of ownership.

Furthermore, the duration of patent and copyright protection also greatly differ. Design patents expire after 15 years of issuance, while plant patents and utility patents expire after 20 years of issuance.

Copyright protection, on the other hand, depends on completely different factors. For individual intellectual property holders, copyright protection lasts for the author’s entire lifetime, plus seventy years. Meanwhile, copyright protection for literary, artistic or musical works created pseudonymously or anonymously extends up to 120 years from the registered date of creation or 95 years from the registered date of publication, whichever comes first.

Comparison Chart

PatentCopyright
Issued to protect machinery, equipment, mathematical equations, chemicals, newly discovered processes and other similar worksGranted to safeguard musical, dramatic, literary and artistic works
Filed by inventors and designersRegistered by creative professionals such as architects, artists, authors and choreographers
Patent application requires a complete patent search, along with the submission of well-detailed drawings, abstract definitions, specifications and claimsCopyright registration requires the submission of a form and a sample work, along with the payment of a registration fee

Patent protection for design patents: 15 years from date of issuance

Patent protection for utility patents and plant patents: 20 years from date of issuance

Copyright protection for individual authors: Lasts for the author’s entire lifetime, plus seventy years

Copyright protection for works created anonymously or pseudonymously: lasts for 120 years from the registered date of creation or 95 years from the registered date of publication, whichever comes first