What is the difference between a patent, a trademark, a copyright and a trade secret?

Patents protect a new, useful and nonobvious machine, article of manufacture, composition of matter, process or improvement thereof. Registration of a patent is required to obtain patent protection for an invention. Design patents protect new ornamental features while utility patents protect functional features.

Trademarks protect a name or design that is used to identify the source of goods or services. Some trademark protection is automatic upon use of a trademark. Registering a trademark (usually with the federal government) enhances protection.

Copyright law protects original works of authorship. Examples include music, paintings, sculptures, books, computer software, architectural drawings and motion pictures. Copyright protection is automatic, but benefits are provided by registering copyright rights for the work and by placing copyright notice on a work.

Trade secrets are information that is not generally known to the public and which have been made the subject of reasonable secrecy preservation measures. Examples include formulas, processes performed in secret and strategic business information. Trade secrets do not require registration but do require reasonable secrecy measures.

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