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How Do Patents and Copyrights Work?

A tremendous volume of business in America depends on innovation and new thinking to propel businesses forward. Without forward thinkers, progress is stagnant, and we fall behind as a nation. But how do businesses and individuals protect their innovations? Why come up with new things at all if someone else can steal your idea and make money off of it?

Intellectual Property

To protect business innovations and new ideas, there are intellectual property laws, most of which deal with patents and copyrights. Patents and copyrights provide protection for innovation, inventions, and new methods that individuals or businesses register with the government. This provides an incentive to innovate and it allows people to pursue legal action against others who try to steal their ideas. But what is the difference between a patent and a copyright, and how do they provide protection?


When an inventor creates a new mechanism, process, device or composition, and it qualifies as patentable, they can apply to the United States Patent and Trademark Office for protection against others taking their invention and exploiting it. This is often referred to as a statutory monopoly and gives the patent owner various rights, including the ability to grant a license to others to make use of their property.

Patents survive for a very short term compared to trademarks or copyrights. They are also far more difficult to obtain. Patented devices and methods are among the most lucrative kinds of intellectual property, and are popular in medical, aerospace, technology, and communications fields. There are different kinds of patents, which are applied based on what kind of invention is being protected.


Under the United States Copyright Act of 1976, whenever a work is “fixed in a tangible medium” like a canvas, a data file or a document, copyright protection vests. A copyright is an exclusive right to display, publicly perform, distribute, commercially exploit and create derivative works from an original creative work like a manuscript, painting, video, picture or audio recording.

There are entire economies built on copyright protection, including the film industry, the video game industry, and publishing, which includes electronic news, books, and magazines. Copyrights are relatively easy to obtain and can be a valuable asset to many kinds of companies, especially those involved in the creation of fictional entertainment like film or television. Numerous enterprises exploit their original characters in the form of licensed apparel, action figures, and spinoffs of original comics or films into other forms of media.

Copyright law is somewhat more abstract than patent law, but also doesn’t require an application. Copyrights, unlike patents, can simply be registered by paying a nominal fee and delivering copies of the original works to the Library of Congress.


While a copyright or patent provides some discouragement from intellectual property theft, some people just don’t care. Having the proper copyright or patent will allow you to pursue intellectual property litigation against those who try to steal your work, so it is very important that you make sure you have filed for all the necessary protections as soon as possible.


Copyright Act of 1976

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Jenn Montgomery is a freelance writer, editor, and blogger based in San Diego. She writes on a variety of topics and enjoys learning new things. She graduated from San Diego State University with a degree in Rhetoric and Writing Studies. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, baking, and knitting. You can contact her on Twitter.

Bob Kraft

I am a Dallas, Texas lawyer who has had the privilege of helping thousands of clients since 1971 in the areas of Personal Injury law and Social Security Disability.

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The title of this blog reflects my attitude toward those government agencies and insurance companies that routinely mistreat injured or disabled people. As a Dallas, Texas lawyer, I've spent more than 45 years trying to help those poor folk, and I have been frustrated daily by the actions of the people on the other side of their claims. (Sorry if I offended you...)

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