Understanding the intricate landscape of intellectual property (IP) can be challenging. Two common forms of IP protection, copyrights and patents, often need clarification. Let us look at the fundamental differences between these two types of IP protection to help clarify what they cover and when you might need them.


A Brief Introduction to Intellectual Property

Before distinguishing copyrights from patents, knowing what intellectual property is is crucial. Intellectual property represents creations of the mind, including inventions, literary and artistic works, designs, symbols, names, and images used in commerce. It allows individuals or corporations to legally protect these unique creations, ensuring the original creators receive the credit and benefits from their invention or work.


Understanding Copyrights

Copyright is a form of intellectual property protection provided to the authors of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and other intellectual works, both published and unpublished. A copyright is the legal right to decide who can make copies of an authored work.  


What Does Copyright Protect?

Copyright protects original works of authorship, including novels, music, movies, software, and architecture. It does not protect ideas, facts, systems, or methods of operation – though it may protect how these things are expressed. For instance, you cannot copyright an idea for a story or a general method of operation in an App (software). However, you can copyright the story’s actual text or the app’s source code. A copyright protects an expression of an idea rather than the broader idea itself, as patents do.


Duration of Copyright Protection

In most cases, a copyright lasts for the author’s life plus 70 years. If the author is a corporation or anonymous, the duration of copyright is usually 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter.


Delving into Patents

On the other hand, a patent is a right granted to an inventor by a sovereign authority, such as the government. A patent gives the patent owner exclusive rights to make use, sell, or import the apparatus, device, process, cultivated plant, or design for a certain period. Without the inventor’s permission, no one else can produce, sell, or use the patented invention.


What Do Patents Protect?

Patents protect inventions. An invention could be a new product, system, process, or composition of matter. For example, you could patent a new type of engine, a new method of creating an engine, a new chemical compound, or a new design for an engine.


Duration of Patent Protection

In the United States, a utility patent, which covers new processes, machines, manufactured devices, or compositions of matter, lasts for 20 years from the filing date. A plant patent covers cultivated plants and lasts 20 years from the filing date. 

A design patent covers new, original, and ornamental designs for a manufactured article and lasts 15 years from the grant date.  


The Crux of the Difference

Copyright and patent protection are two distinct types of intellectual property rights that protect different types of assets. Copyrights protect original works of authorship, like books, music, film, and software code, while patents protect inventions, such as new processes, systems, or designs.

These two types of protection differ not only in what they cover but also in terms of duration. Generally, copyrights last longer (the life of the author plus 70 years), while patents have shorter terms (20 years for utility and plant patents and 15 years for design patents).



Understanding the differences between copyright and patent protection is fundamental to protecting intellectual property. If you’ve created an original work of authorship, you might need copyright protection. A patent might be your best bet if you’ve invented something new and non-obvious. It’s essential to consult with an IP attorney to help determine what kind of protection is suitable for your unique creation.

Remember, your ideas and inventions are valuable. Protecting them allows you to receive the credit and rewards you deserve for your creativity and ingenuity.

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