What are definitions of:

  1. patents,
  2. copyrights, and
  3. trademarks.

I have created an original artistic handmade ornamental item. I'm trying to understand whether I need to get a patent, a copyright, or a trademark to protect my idea.

  • Nolo's "Patent It Yourself" book has a good section at the beginning devoted to the differences between the three, and when to use one or another, or a combination.
    – SRDC
    Nov 8 '15 at 5:30

Your question is extremely broad, and you should really consult an attorney, because this answer is the absolute top level of what you need to know. There are tons of exceptions and clarifications for everything in this answer.


From the US Copyright Office, copyright is "granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works." Source: Copyright in General. That definition is of course subject to multiple layers of interpretation, but at a general level you should check out these additional definitions: Copyright FAQ.


From the US Patent and Trademark Office, trademark is "a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others." Source: Trademark FAQ. You will want to take a look at this page which explains the basics of trademark: Trademark Basics.


From the US Patent and Trademark Office, a patent is "a property right granted by the Government of the United States of America to an inventor “to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States” for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted." Source: US Patent Office: Patents. You should read the rest of the FAQ on patents here: Patents.

Generally speaking, your ornamental item is probably covered by copyright, probably not covered by trademark, and you probably couldn't get a patent on it, unless it was a design patent.

As I said right at the beginning these are conversations to have with an attorney, but the information and links provided will give you the background high level information you need before you talk to an attorney.


Some people confuse in between patents, copyrights, and trademarks. Although there may be some similarities among these kinds of intellectual property protection, but are different and serve different purposes.

Copyright is a form of protection provided to the authors of original works of authorship including literary, dramatic etc and certain other intellectual works both published and unpublished.

A trademark is a word, name, symbol or device which is used in trade with goods to indicate major supplies straight from the source.

Whereas a patent is a government authority or licence conferring a right or title for a set period, especially the sole right to exclude others from making, using, or selling an invention.

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