Basic Facts: Trademarks, Patents, and Copyrights

Part 2 of Basic Facts about Trademarks Series

Published on Apr 27, 2017

This video provides a quick and easy breakdown of the three main types of intellectual property: trademarks, patents, and copyrights. You’ll learn how trademarks differ from domain names and business names. By the end of the video, you’ll understand how to use each type of intellectual property to protect a different aspect of your business.

Basic Facts about Trademarks Series

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Basic Facts About Trademarks:
Trademarks, Patents, and Copyrights

Hi there and welcome to the Trademark Information Network's Basic Facts Breakdown. I'm Mark Trademan.

In this segment, we're going to discuss, in very general terms, three different types of intellectual property rights: trademarks, patents, and copyrights. Each one typically protects a different aspect of something your business may do, so it's important that you understand how they differ. Especially if you want to secure federal protection for your intellectual property assets.

We'll also discuss domain names and business names and how they differ from trademarks.

By the end, you'll know exactly what to say when you overhear someone say they want to "patent that trademark on their copyright" or "copyright that patent on their trademark." Ready? Let's get started...

The first thing we need to do is define what a trademark actually is. A trademark is generally a word, phrase, slogan, symbol, or design, or combination thereof, that identifies the source of your goods and services and distinguishes them from the goods and services of another party. That is, a trademark lets consumers know that the goods or services come only from you and not from someone else.

Essentially, think about it this way: a trademark is a brand. It distinguishes your goods and services from those of your competitors. It helps consumers decide what to buy when choosing between similar or related products.

Say, for example, that T.MARKEY brand shoes are known for their quality workmanship at a reasonable price.

When presented with similar shoes at comparable prices, consumers may choose T.MARKEY brand shoes because they know it's a brand they can trust.

And that's a trademark in action. The combination of words and a design identifies the source of a pair of shoes and distinguishes them from the shoes of another manufacturer.

People often ask if there's a difference between a trademark and a service mark. There is: a trademark identifies the source of goods (like, shoes or laptops) and a service mark identifies the source of services (like, landscaping or accounting).

Although "trademarks" are legally different from "service marks", it's OK to informally refer to a service mark as a trademark. Throughout this video, we'll use the terms "trademark" and "mark" to refer to both trademarks and service marks.

So, now that we know what a trademark is, how is it different from a patent? Or a copyright? It generally breaks down this way:

A trademark is a brand used on goods and services. A patent typically protects inventions, like new engines and solar panels. A copyright typically protects original artistic and literary works, like songs and movies and books. Although trademarks, patents, and copyrights can all be used together, the protections they provide are not the same.

For example, if you invent a new type of vacuum cleaner, you might apply for a patent to protect the invention itself. You could apply to register a trademark to protect the brand name of the vacuum cleaner. And you might register a copyright for the TV commercial you use to market the product.

Those are three different types of protection for three separate types of intellectual property: brands, inventions, and artistic works. They're all equally important and protect different parts of your intellectual property portfolio.

Now, what about domain names and business names? How do those differ from trademarks? That's a great question, as people often confuse them. Let's clear up the differences right now, starting with domain names.

As we discussed earlier, a trademark is typically a brand or slogan or design that identifies the source of goods and services. A domain name is the web address that identifies a website. USPTO.GOV, for example, is the domain name for the USPTO's website.

Registering a trademark is different than registering a domain name. Trademarks are federally registered through the USPTO; domain names are registered through a domain name registrar. They are not the same thing. One identifies the source of goods and services; the other is a web address.

Registration of a domain name with a domain name registrar does not give you trademark rights. In fact, if you register a domain name with a domain name registrar that includes the trademark of another party, you may have to surrender that domain name.

"But hang on," you might be thinking. "What about all those companies with .COM in their names? Aren't those both trademarks and domain names?" You're correct; sometimes they are. A domain name can also function as a trademark, so long as the domain name is used in such a way that it also identifies the source of particular goods and services.

Let's use TMARKEY.COM as an example. First, we know it functions as a domain name or web address. And second, let's say TMARKEY.COM is also an online retailer of shoes. If TMARKEY.COM is used as a brand for retail store services, that could be considered trademark use.

See the difference? The first use is as a web address, the second use is as a trademark.

There is also a difference between a business name and a trademark. A business name is just that: it is simply the name under which you do business in a particular state or jurisdiction. However, a business name registration with your state does not grant you trademark rights; it merely means that a particular state allows you to do business under that name.

Can a business name also be a trademark? Sure! Much like a domain name, it all depends on how you use it.

So, if you use your business name to identify the source of your goods and services and distinguish them from the goods and services of another party, that's trademark use.

To enjoy the nationwide rights offered by a federal trademark registration, you must file a trademark application and receive a registration from the USPTO. Individual states also offer to register trademarks, but any protection granted is limited to that state.

To avoid confusion, make sure you have this straight: Trademarks are brands, Patents protect inventions, Copyrights protect original artistic works, Domain names are web addresses, and Business names are entity names under which you do business. They may be related, and sometimes overlap, but they are all different legal concepts.

And all handled by different organizations. Patents and federal trademarks, for example, are handled by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Copyrights are handled by the U.S. Copyright Office, part of the Library of Congress. Domain names are handled by private companies who are domain name registrars. And business names are handled by local Secretaries of State.

For more information about patents, check out the Patents section of the USPTO.GOV website. For copyrights, go to For domain name information, go to For business name information, check out the Secretary of State website for the state or jurisdiction in which you live or work.

And, of course, for more information about trademarks, feel free to explore the Trademarks section of USPTO.GOV.

There are Trademark Basics, FAQs, plus ways to search Office records, apply for registration, and check the status of your application. And, you have access to the complete series of Trademark Information Network broadcasts, where we break down the application process, one step at a time.

Thanks for watching this Basic Facts Breakdown and we hope you learned how the various types of intellectual property all differ. So, the next time someone says they want to "patent that trademark on their copyright" or "copyright that patent on their trademark," you know what to tell them. And you know where to send them for more information: to the Trademark Information Network's Basic Facts Breakdown.

See you next time. I'm Mark Trademan, Trademark Information Network.