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What’s the difference between trademarks, copyrights, and patents?

Back to IP FAQs Overview

Time to get to grips with the main forms of intellectual property

Do you know your IP onions?

Whats the difference between trademarks copyright and patents? Image of some slices of red onions.

Photo by Wilhelm Gunkel on Unsplash

Words by Dr Martin Douglas Hendry




Trademarks, copyright, and patents are all legal protections that can help businesses in the UK to protect their intellectual property (IP). These legal tools can be confusing, so it's important to understand the differences between them.

A trademark is a recognizable sign, design, or expression that identifies the products or services of a specific company. Trademarks can include words, phrases, logos, and even colors. They help to distinguish the products or services of one business from another and can be used to protect brand identity. In the UK, trademarks are registered with the Intellectual Property Office (IPO).

Copyright, on the other hand, is a legal protection that covers original works of art, literature, music, and other creative works. Copyright protects the expression of an idea, rather than the idea itself. In the UK, copyright is automatically granted to the creator of a work and does not require registration.

Finally, a patent is a legal protection that covers inventions. A patent grants the owner the exclusive right to make, use, and sell an invention for a certain period of time. In the UK, patents are granted by the IPO and can be used to protect a wide range of inventions, from new technologies to medical treatments.

In summary, trademarks protect brand identity, copyrights protect creative works, and patents protect inventions. These legal tools are important for businesses in the UK to protect their IP and ensure that they are the only ones who can profit from their creations.

It's important for businesses to understand the differences between trademarks, copyright, and patents, as well as the benefits and limitations of each type of legal protection.





Trademarks can be a valuable asset for businesses, as they can help to build brand recognition and prevent others from using similar signs or designs that could cause confusion among consumers. However, trademarks must be renewed periodically, and it's up to the owner to enforce their trademark rights if they feel that their trademark is being infringed upon.





Copyright, on the other hand, offers automatic protection for original creative works, but it can be difficult to enforce, especially if the work is used without permission in another country. In addition, copyright protection only lasts for a certain period of time, after which the work enters the public domain and can be used by anyone.





Patents, while offering potentially long-term protection for inventions, can be difficult and expensive to obtain. In order to obtain a patent, an invention must be new, useful, and non-obvious. The patent application process can be complex and time-consuming, and it's important to make sure that the invention is adequately described and claimed in the application.





In conclusion, trademarks, copyright, and patents are all important legal tools that businesses in the UK can use to protect their IP. Each type of protection offers its own benefits and limitations, and it's important for businesses to carefully consider which type of protection is best for their specific needs.


Need help with your IP? Get in touch with our specialist team today to find out how we can help protect what makes you unique.


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Look at our other guides that relate to this topic here.

How to appeal a copyright infringement claim

Patent invalidation and patent revocation: what patent owners must know

How to resolve a trademark dispute: our guidance



Virtuoso Legal is a team of intellectual property specialists based in Leeds and London - operating worldwide. Virtuoso Legal's team of IP experts have successfully tried cases in the IPEC, High Court, Court of Appeals and United Kingdom Supreme Court. In addition, the team assist companies in creating, commercialising and protecting the big ideas that make their business unique. The firm and its professionals are ranked yearly in legal directories such as the Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners, cementing their status as a Top 2% law firm in the world.

DISCLAIMER: The content within this post is for educational purposes only. Virtuoso Legal does not take any responsibility for those that use this information and waives any liability for any resulting effect on your personal or commercial circumstances. If you are experiencing an issue and need advice, we strongly encourage you to contact a solicitor to identify your best course of action.

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