Difference Between Copyright and Patent

Copyright and patents are two distinct forms of intellectual property protection. Copyright safeguards creative works like books, music, and art, granting exclusive rights to creators. On the other hand, patents protect inventions or innovations, providing inventors with the exclusive right to use and sell their creations.

While copyright focuses on artistic expression, patents are geared towards technological advancements, offering a balance that encourages both artistic and scientific progress in our evolving world.

Copyright vs Patent

Comparison Chart

What it ProtectsOriginal works of authorship (expression of ideas)New, useful, and non-obvious inventions (ideas themselves)
ExamplesBooks, music, software code, paintings, movies, articlesMachines, processes, chemical compounds, new plant varieties
Requirements for ProtectionOriginality and fixation in a tangible mediumNovelty, usefulness, and non-obviousness
Obtaining ProtectionAutomatic upon creation (registration strengthens rights)Requires government application and approval process
Term of ProtectionAuthor’s life + 70 years ()20 years from filing date
Rights GrantedReproduce, distribute, adapt, display, perform the workMake, use, sell, import the invention
FocusProtects the creative form or expressionProtects the underlying functionality or idea
RegistrationOptional (U.S. Copyright Office)Mandatory (Patent Office)
CostRelatively inexpensive (optional registration)Can be expensive due to application fees and legal expertise
EnforcementRequires legal action through courtsRequires legal action through courts
DisclosureWork itself is not confidentialFull disclosure of invention required in application

Similarities Between Copyright and Patent

Exclusive Rights

Both copyright and patent grant exclusive rights to the creators or inventors. This exclusivity allows them to control how their creations or inventions are used, reproduced, or distributed. Others must seek permission or a license to use the protected material.

Limited Duration

While copyright and patent provide exclusive rights, they are not perpetual. Copyright protection and patent exclusivity have finite durations. Copyright protection eventually expires, allowing the work to enter the public domain. Similarly, after the patent term expires, the invention becomes freely available for public use.

Economic Incentives

Both systems serve as economic incentives for creators and inventors. By granting exclusive rights, copyright and patent systems encourage individuals to invest time, effort, and resources into the creation of new works or inventions, knowing that they can reap the benefits of their efforts.

What is Copyright?

Copyright refers to a legal term that describes creators’ rights to their literary and creative works. Examples of works that are protected by copyright include books, movies, songs, etc.

It can also be defined as a legal term that describes who owns and controls the rights to use and distribute particular creative works, such as books, videos, articles, names, quotes, songs, software, etc.

Copyright is a combination of two words, “copy” and “right.” It is the right of the creator or an approved person to reuse a creative work. Copyright helps ensure creators do not get their works plagiarized or reproduced without their authorization.

It gives creators the platform to monetize their works by selling them to individuals or organizations that might want to reproduce them or use them for personal purposes.


Duration of Copyright Protection

The duration of copyright protection varies depending on the type of work and the jurisdiction. Generally, copyright lasts for the lifetime of the creator plus a certain number of years. After this period, the work enters the public domain, becoming freely accessible to the public without restrictions.

Exclusive Rights of Copyright Holders

Copyright grants several exclusive rights to the creators or copyright holders. These rights include the right to reproduce the work, distribute copies, perform or display the work publicly, and create derivative works. These exclusive rights provide creators with the ability to monetize their creations and control how others use them.

Works Covered by Copyright

Copyright protects a wide range of creative works, including but not limited to literary works (books, articles), artistic works (paintings, sculptures), musical compositions, films, and software. The protection extends to both published and unpublished works, offering a comprehensive shield for intellectual property.

Registration and Formalities

While copyright protection is automatic upon the creation of a work, some jurisdictions offer additional benefits to creators who register their works with a copyright office. Registration provides a public record of the copyright claim, making it easier for creators to enforce their rights in case of infringement.

Fair Use and Exceptions

Not all uses of copyrighted material require permission from the copyright holder. The concept of fair use allows for the limited use of copyrighted works without permission, for purposes such as criticism, commentary, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Determining fair use involves considering factors such as the purpose of use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount used, and the effect on the market value.

International Copyright Protection

Copyright protection is not limited to individual countries; it extends internationally through various treaties and agreements. The Berne Convention is one such agreement that establishes minimum standards of copyright protection among its member countries, ensuring a level of consistency in the treatment of copyrighted works globally.

Digital Challenges and Copyright

The digital age has introduced new challenges to copyright enforcement, especially with the ease of copying and distributing digital content. Issues such as online piracy, digital rights management (DRM), and the sharing of copyrighted material on the internet have prompted ongoing discussions about how to balance the rights of creators with the evolving landscape of technology.

Copyright Examples

  1. Literary Work: A novel, such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee.
  2. Musical Composition: The sheet music and lyrics of a song, like “Yesterday” by The Beatles.
  3. Artistic Work: A painting, such as “Starry Night” by Vincent van Gogh.
  4. Software Code: The source code of a computer program, for instance, the code for the Linux operating system.
  5. Film Production: The script, soundtrack, and visual elements of a movie, like “The Shawshank Redemption.”

What is a Patent?

An invention is a product or a technique that, in general, offers a new way of doing something or presents a new technological solution to a problem. A patent is a legal right granted to an inventor for an invention. This invention is one that offers a new way of doing something or presents a technological solution to a problem. In a patent application, technical information about the new idea must be shared with the public.

The governments of various countries in the world grant patents to their inventors to prevent others from exploiting the patent without authorization.

Just like copyright protects the works of creators, patents protect the works of inventors and enable them to share their solutions in public without fear of theft or unauthorized use.

Simply put, this implies that the patented work may only be used, reproduced, or sold with the inventor’s prior written consent or authorization.

This provides financial opportunities for inventors. Inventors can sell their patent rights and thus profit from their invention. An example of a company that does this is Samsung. In 2017, the South Korea-based company sold over 8,894 patent grants.

What is Patent

Types of Patents

  1. Utility Patents: Utility patents are the most common type and cover new and useful processes, machines, articles of manufacture, or compositions of matter. These patents protect the functional aspects of inventions.
  2. Design Patents: Design patents focus on the ornamental design or aesthetics of a functional item. They are granted for new, original, and ornamental designs for an article of manufacture.
  3. Plant Patents: Plant patents are granted for the invention or discovery and asexual reproduction of any distinct and new variety of plants, excluding tuber-propagated plants and hybrids.

Patentable Criteria

For an invention to be eligible for a patent, it must meet specific criteria:

  1. Novelty: The invention must be new and not previously disclosed or known to the public.
  2. Non-obviousness: The invention should not be an obvious modification or combination of existing inventions.
  3. Usefulness: The invention must have a practical use and be capable of being applied or used in some industry.

Patent Application Process

  1. Filing a Patent Application: Inventors file a patent application with the relevant patent office, providing a detailed description, claims, and visual representations of the invention.
  2. Patent Examination: The patent office examines the application to ensure it meets the criteria. This process may involve communication between the inventor and the examiner to address questions or concerns.
  3. Granting or Rejection: Based on the examination, the patent office may grant the patent, reject it, or request modifications to meet patentability requirements.

Patent Rights and Enforcement

  1. Exclusive Rights: A granted patent provides the inventor with exclusive rights to make, use, sell, and import the patented invention for the duration of the patent.
  2. Enforcement: Patent owners have the right to enforce their patents and take legal action against those who infringe on their exclusive rights.

Patent Duration and Maintenance

  1. Duration: Utility patents last 20 years from the filing date, while design patents last 15 years. Plant patents have a duration of 20 years from the filing date.
  2. Maintenance: To maintain patent protection, inventors must pay maintenance fees to the patent office at specific intervals during the patent’s term.
Patent License

Patent Examples

  1. Utility Patent: A patent for a new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter. Example: The patent for the first commercially successful electric light bulb by Thomas Edison.
  2. Design Patent: A patent for a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture. Example: The design patent for the Coca-Cola bottle.
  3. Plant Patent: A patent for a new and distinct variety of plant that has been asexually reproduced. Example: A patent for a new type of rose with unique characteristics.
  4. Software Patent: A patent for a new and innovative software or algorithm. Example: The patent for the RSA encryption algorithm used in cybersecurity.
  5. Biotech Patent: A patent for a new and inventive biotechnological process or product. Example: A patent for a genetically modified organism designed for agricultural purposes.

Difference Between Copyright and Patent

  • Nature:
    • Copyright protects original works of authorship, such as literary, artistic, and musical works.
    • Patent protects inventions or discoveries, including processes, machines, and compositions of matter.
  • Scope of Protection:
    • Copyright protects the expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves.
    • Patent protects the novel and non-obvious ideas or inventions.
  • Duration:
    • Copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.
    • Patent protection has a limited duration, 20 years from the filing date.
  • Registration:
    • Copyright protection is automatic upon creation, though registration is recommended for additional benefits.
    • Patent protection requires a formal application process with a government patent office.
  • Requirements:
    • Copyright protection requires the work to be original and fixed in a tangible medium of expression.
    • Patent protection demands novelty, non-obviousness, and usefulness.
  • Exclusive Rights:
    • Copyright grants the author exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, display, and perform the work.
    • Patent provides the inventor exclusive rights to make, use, and sell the patented invention.
  • Fair Use/Exceptions:
    • Copyright has limitations, such as fair use, allowing certain uses of copyrighted material without permission.
    • Patent has limited exceptions, but , any unauthorized use is an infringement.
  • Ideas vs. Expression:
    • Copyright protects the expression of ideas, not the underlying ideas or facts.
    • Patent protects the underlying ideas, processes, or inventions.
  • Use in Commerce:
    • Copyright does not restrict the use of similar ideas, only the copying of specific expressions.
    • Patent grants a monopoly, limiting others from using the patented invention for a set period.
  • Applicability:
    • Copyright is applicable to a wide range of creative works, from books to software.
    • Patent is applicable to new and useful inventions in various fields, excluding abstract ideas and natural phenomena.
  • Infringement:
    • Copyright infringement occurs when someone reproduces, distributes, or displays the copyrighted work without permission.
    • Patent infringement occurs when someone makes, uses, or sells the patented invention without authorization.


William S. Strong (2014), The Copyright Book