Copyright, Patent, or Trademark: Which One Is Right for You?


Intellectual property law is notoriously complicated, so it’s no wonder that the defining issues can be confusing. Intellectual property, in general, refers to ownership of goods that are intangible or that can’t be held – creations of the mind – and are, therefore, harder to protect. Once you understand the basic distinctions between copyrights, patents, and trademark, you’ll have a better idea about what’s best for your intellectual property needs.

Types of Intellectual Property

One way to consider the various protections available to people in the United States is in the context of a simple item, such as a mousetrap:

  • You obtain a patent for your new mousetrap design (not for the idea of a mousetrap);
  • You obtain a copyright for your artistic rendering of that mousetrap (not for the idea of the mousetrap); and
  • You obtain a trademark for your mousetrap company’s consumer-recognizable logo (not for the idea of a logo).

Intellectual property rights, in other words, protect how people uniquely and concretely express their ideas and not the ideas themselves.


Patents protect the functional expression of your ideas and not your ideas themselves. A mousetrap’s unique design, the unique method of making a mousetrap or its parts, or the unique material that the mousetrap or its parts are made of can all be patented. The broad idea of a mousetrap cannot.


Copyrights protect the unique creative expression of an idea via any medium of artistic or creative expression. You can copyright your artistic expression (photo, painting, sculpture, drawing, and the like) of a mousetrap, but you cannot stop anyone else from also copyrighting their artistic expression of the same mousetrap.


Trademarks protect symbols that indicate the source or origin of the goods or services to which they are affixed. While trademarks can be exceedingly valuable to their owners, they are designed to protect consumers and to provide them with important information about where the goods or services they are purchasing originate from. You can trademark the name of your mousetrap company to let your customers know exactly where their mousetrap purchase came from – you!

Intellectual property law is complicated; often intellectual property itself can benefit from more than one classification of protection. An experienced IP lawyer can help you understand which protections best suit your needs.

If You’re Interested in Obtaining Protection for Your Intellectual Property, Contact an Orange County IP Law Firm

If you have questions about which IP protection is right for you, you are not alone. Jafari Law Group has the expertise and experience to help you make the most of your intellectual property. We’re here to help, so give us a call at 949-362-0100 or contact us online.