Copyrights, patents and trademarks are all intellectual property protections that prevent other people from capitalizing on your unique ideas. If someone infringes your intellectual property, i.e., uses it without your consent, you can take legal action.
However, intellectual property protections do not necessarily last forever. Different types of protections endure for different lengths of time, and your use of the property may also make a difference.
Copyright applies to artistic, dramatic, literary and musical works of authorship. The copyright term varies depending on whether the copyrighted material was a work for hire, i.e., created for someone else’s benefit, or the work of an individual.
In the former case, copyright protection lasts 120 years from the date of creation or 95 years from the date of publication, whichever is shorter. In the latter case, the copyright expires 70 years from the date of the author’s death.
A patent protects chemical compositions, machines and manufactured articles, industrial processes and other unique inventions. Like copyright, a patent is temporary protection that eventually expires. Depending on the type of patent, its term can range from 15 to 20 years.
A trademark is something that you use to identify your company to your customers and differentiate your goods and services from your competitors’. Logos and slogans are examples of trademarks, as is the strategic use of sound to identify a product or company.
Unlike patents and copyrights, trademarks do not expire automatically after a certain amount of time. The protection remains in effect as long as the trademark is still in use. Trademark protection does not depend on registration, but registering your trademark does give you additional legal options.