Trademark, copyrights, patent, and license are a part of intellectual property right protection. However, they are all different in nature and serve different purposes. While certain services and products may require one of these others may need implementation of more than one. Often confused with each other, these terms have been demarcated clearly by the law. If you find it difficult to tell them apart then the information shared here should clarify all your doubts and apprehensions about the same.

Here is a look at the role and need of each of these to understand the difference between them:


A trademark is a symbol, slogan or logo that represents a brand, product or service and distinguishes them from others in the market. It may even represent a particular feature of a service or product. Trademark rights can be attained by registering the trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO). It can also be acquired by associating the trademark with a product or service as it is used in the market. This is termed as unregistered trademark. Though registration of a trademark is not mandatory to acquire rights, it is recommended to do so owing to the benefits attached to the same.  

A ‘service mark’, as the name suggests, is a trademark that represents a service. It is not applicable for tangible products. Trademarks are valid till the time a brand continues to use them.


Copyright protects the works of creative professionals such as authors, singers, musicians, architects, painters, and the likes. Works that can be copyrighted include movies, songs, poems, novels, stories, paintings, musical compositions and architectural drawings among other pieces of art. It also includes works such as software code, product manuals, and web designs. A work comes under copyright protection as soon as it comes in tangible form.

The person who gets his work copyrighted has the right to reproduce, perform, display or record his content. He also gets the right to update, revise, summarise and translate the content.

Copyrights last for the entire lifetime of the author and 70 years more. If the copyright has been given to an organization then it will last for 95 years from the date the work goes public.


A patent is usually granted for any newly invented machine, process, item, or business technique. Patents are broadly categorized as a utility patent, design patent, plant patent, and business method patent. Your startup lawyer will be able to explain the difference between each of these at length and help you understand their need.

Patent safeguard the rights of the inventors. If one gets patent rights for his invention, he can sue anyone manufacturing or selling their invention.

A patent is granted for a period of 20 years by the PTO. You require enforcing your patent against unauthorized third parties infringing your rights after the patent is issued. If you fail to do so, your patent shall be declared unenforceable by the law.


A license is basically a contract that transfers the intellectual property rights from the owner to the third party who wants to make use of them. The owner here is referred to as the licensor and the third party is called the licensee. The licensor charges a good royalty from the licensee in exchange of the IP rights. There are two types of rights here:

  1. Exclusive Rights: These rights are granted to a single licensee.
  2. Non-Exclusive Rights: These rights are granted to multiple licensees.

Licenses are generally granted for a fixed period of time. These are renewed as per the requirement. More royalty is usually paid to the licensor during the process of renewal.

We hope the information shared here will help you safeguard your intellectual property and make sure it is put to use exactly the way you want it to. For a thorough understanding of these terms and their implementation, it is suggested to consult a knowledgeable and experienced startup law firm & IP lawyer.