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What is the Difference Between a Patent and a Trademark?

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  • Written By: Angie Bates
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 03 December 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2018
    Conjecture Corporation
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Although both a patent and a trademark are generally handled by the same office, such as the Patent and Trademark Office in the United States or the Intellectual Property Office in England, there are many differences between the two. Primarily, a patent is a legal claim to intellectual property that involves the design, improvement or creation of something that is used. A trademark is a logo or a brand name. Both a patent and a trademark can be registered, but only a patent is required be registered.

There are three types of patents: utility, design and plant. Utility patents apply to the invention, improvement or discovery of something that is used functionally in some way. These are the most common kind of patents.

Design patents apply to the appearance of an item of utility, not the function of the item. Plant patents are used when a new plant is created or discovered, usually a hybrid. This plant must be able to reproduce asexually.

Trademarks can be drawings, letters, words or symbols. They can be the name of a company or brand or are often a symbol representing that name. For example, car companies often have trademarked symbols on their cars, so the types of car are easily identifiable at a glance.

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If a trademark is unregistered, it needs only to be regionally unique. Registered trademarks need to be unique nationally. Trademarks typically must be renewed after a certain period of time, such as after the first five years of use, then on a 10-year basis while the mark is still in use. Proof that the mark is being used for what was originally intended is always required when renewing trademarks.

Registration for a patent and a trademark are alike in some ways. Both require drawings and descriptions of the item to be registered. A patent requires the descriptions of the item itself, and the trademark requires a description of what the mark will be used for, along with a sample showing the trademark used in that way. A patent also requires a claim of ownership statement. The specific requirements for a patent application differ among the types of patents.

The purposes of a patent and a trademark differ slightly. Both are designed to protect intellectual property rights. A patent, however, is focused on the product. Its point is to keep outside sources from creating the exact same product as the patent holder. A trademark's focus is identification, and it is desired to make the product easily identifiable as being from a specific manufacturer and to prevent other companies from falsely identifying themselves with that manufacturer.

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