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While it's easy to confuse patents, copyright, and trademarks, each serves a different purpose and provides different protections.

Patents are related to inventions. Someone who holds a patent has the exclusive rights to make, use, or sell something--a product, a process, a design, or even a plant. These rights last for 20 years from date of filing. The first United States patent was granted in 1790. The Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) in the Department of Commerce grants patents and trademarks.

Trademarks are words, symbols, or slogans that identify items and goods. Trademarks can be renewed indefinitely; the first trademark protection was enacted in 1905. As with patents, trademarks are issued by the Patents and Trademark Office in the Department of Commerce.

Unlike patents and trademarks, copyright is registered by the Register of Copyrights within the Library of Congress. Copyright is intended to protect literary or creative works. For works published since 1976, copyright protects the work for the life of the author plus 50 years. Before 1976, copyright lasted 75 years.




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