Trademarks vs Patent - what do they protect and why the differences?

Trademarks vs Patent - what do they protect and why the differences?

  • 14 June, 2024
  • Nyall Engfield

Trademarks vs Patent - what do they protect and why the differences?

Introduction to trademark vs patent

Trademarks and patents are two important forms of intellectual property protection that serve distinct purposes. While both provide legal rights to owners, they protect different aspects of a business or invention. Understanding the differences between trademarks and patents is crucial for entrepreneurs, inventors, and companies seeking to safeguard their valuable assets.

What is a Trademark?

A trademark is a distinctive symbol, word, phrase, design, or combination thereof that identifies and distinguishes the source of goods or services in the marketplace. The primary purpose of a trademark is to protect the brand identity of a business and prevent confusion among consumers. Trademarks play a vital role in establishing brand recognition, reputation, and customer loyalty.

Trademarks can take various forms, including word marks (unique words or phrases), logo marks (graphical elements), slogans, sounds, and even distinctive packaging. Some well-known examples of trademarks include Nike's "swoosh" logo and Coca-Cola's brand name.

To obtain legal protection for a trademark, registration with the appropriate intellectual property office is necessary. The registration process involves submitting an application with a detailed description of the mark, evidence of its use in commerce, and payment of required fees. Once approved, the trademark owner gains exclusive rights to use the mark and can take legal action against unauthorized use.

Registering a trademark offers several advantages, such as nationwide protection, a legal presumption of ownership and validity, the ability to use the ® symbol, and broader protection that is easier to enforce against infringers. Trademark registration can be renewed indefinitely as long as the mark remains in use.

Trademark infringement occurs when someone uses a mark that is confusingly similar to an existing registered trademark, leading to customer confusion. In such cases, the trademark owner can file a lawsuit to stop the infringement and seek remedies like monetary damages, injunctions, and destruction of infringing goods.

The purpose of trademarks is to protect the reputation and goodwill of a business. They help businesses create a strong brand, allow consumers to easily identify the source of goods or services, and prevent others from using confusingly similar marks. Trademarks are a valuable asset that contribute to a company's long-term success.

What is a Patent?

Unlike trademarks which protect brand identity, patents protect inventions and new technological advancements. A patent grants the inventor exclusive rights to make, use, and sell the invention for a limited period, typically 20 years from the filing date. Patents encourage innovation by providing inventors with a temporary monopoly during which they can recoup their investment and profit from their creations.

There are three main types of patents:

  1. Utility patents: Cover new and useful processes, machines, compositions of matter, or improvements thereof. This is the most common type of patent.
  2. Design patents: Protect the unique ornamental design of a functional item, such as the distinctive shape of a car's hood or headlight.
  3. Plant patents: Granted for new varieties of plants that can be asexually reproduced.
To be eligible for patent protection, an invention must meet certain criteria:
  • Novelty: The invention must be new and not publicly disclosed prior to the patent application.
  • Non-obviousness: It should involve an inventive step and not be obvious to someone skilled in the relevant field.
  • Usefulness: The invention must have a practical use or industrial applicability.

Obtaining a patent involves a rigorous application process. The inventor must file a patent application that includes a detailed description of the invention, its claims, and any necessary drawings. The application undergoes a thorough examination by the patent office to assess its novelty, inventiveness, and industrial applicability. This process can take several years and may involve amendments or rejections.

Upon being granted a patent, the inventor gains exclusive rights to exploit the invention for the duration of the patent term. This exclusivity allows the patent holder to prevent others from making, using, selling, or importing the patented invention without permission. Patent holders can also license their technology to other parties, generating revenue and fostering innovation.

Patent infringement occurs when someone uses, makes, sells, or imports a patented invention without the patent holder's authorization. In such cases, the patent owner can initiate legal proceedings to protect their rights. If infringement is proven, the court may grant remedies such as injunctions, damages, or royalties. Patent litigation can be complex and costly.

Key Differences Between Trademarks and Patents


  • Trademarks identify and distinguish the source of goods or services, protecting brand identity.
  • Patents protect new and useful inventions, processes, or designs, encouraging innovation.
What They Protect:
  • Trademarks protect brand names, logos, symbols, slogans, or other distinctive elements.
  • Patents protect inventions, processes, compositions of matter, ornamental designs, or new plant varieties.
Granting Authority:
  • Trademarks are used by businesses to identify their goods or services.
  • Patents are granted by the government to inventors.
Duration of Protection:
  • Trademarks can potentially last indefinitely as long as they are continuously used and properly maintained.
  • Patents are granted for a fixed period, typically 20 years from the filing date for utility and plant patents, and 15 years from the grant date for design patents.
Scope of Protection:
  • Trademarks apply to specific classes of goods or services.
  • Patents apply to the specific invention or design disclosed in the patent application.
Registration Process:
  • Trademarks can be registered with a trademark office, but registration is not mandatory to establish rights.
  • Patents must be registered with a patent office and undergo a rigorous examination process.
Criteria for Grant:
  • Trademarks must be distinctive and not generic or merely descriptive.
  • Patents must be novel, non-obvious, and useful.
Disclosure Requirement:
  • Trademarks do not require public disclosure of any proprietary information.
  • Patents require detailed public disclosure of the invention to enable others to understand and learn from it.
  • Both trademarks and patents can be enforced against unauthorized use or infringement through legal action.
  • Trademark infringement occurs when there is a likelihood of confusion among consumers.
  • Patent infringement occurs when someone makes, uses, sells, or imports the patented invention without permission.

Importance of Trademarks and Patents

Both trademarks and patents hold significant importance in today's business landscape. Trademarks serve as valuable assets for businesses, helping distinguish their products or services from competitors and building brand recognition. A strong trademark fosters consumer trust and loyalty, contributing to long-term success. Trademarks also protect businesses from imitators and counterfeiters, safeguarding their reputation and market share.

Patents, on the other hand, incentivize innovation and research and development. By granting inventors exclusive rights, patents encourage the disclosure of inventions, driving progress and technological advancements. Patents provide inventors with a competitive edge, allowing them to commercialize their inventions and secure a return on investment. Patent portfolios can attract investors, enhance a company's valuation, and facilitate technology licensing agreements.


In summary, trademarks and patents are distinct forms of intellectual property protection serving different purposes. Trademarks protect brand identity and prevent consumer confusion, while patents safeguard inventions and promote innovation. Understanding the differences between trademarks and patents is crucial for individuals and businesses seeking to protect their intellectual property assets. By securing trademarks and patents, entrepreneurs and inventors can establish a strong market presence, deter competitors, and reap the benefits of their creative efforts.

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