CopyrightsLegal Advice

Trademarks, Copyrights & Patents – How Do They Differ?

If you can't separate Maggi from Xerox in terms of Intellectual Property, or Apple as a brand from the way its apps appear on iOS, you're part of a large group of consumers and businesspeople who don't understand the differences between copyright, patents, and trademarks.

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Trademarks, Copyrights & Patents – In this brief article, we will delineate the nuances of each while also trying to cast light on their significance and need.

Copyrights – Books, Movies, or Ideas?

Possibly, the most common misconception about copyright that exists is getting an idea copyrighted. As far as Indian laws are concerned, there is no copyright that can be granted for an idea, but rather what the law protects is the expression or the manifestation of the idea.

  • This leads to copyrights existing in literary works like books. dramas, scripts, music, lyrics, computer programs etc.
  • This is not all, for those in the creative arts space – copyrights can also be sought for sculptures, artwork, and photographs
  • The only other requirement besides originality is the tangibility of the creation
  • What this means is that the creation should be on such a medium that is perceptible by ordinary senses, thereby eliminating any scope for granting copyrights to mere ideas.

Life of Copyright

A copyright exists for as long as the author survives, plus seventy more years. During this period, a copyright may be sold, assigned or licensed for a particular time period. This is also how most books that are turned into films are made workable.

Since the copyright vests in the original creativity of the idea, there are many cases of movies that were rip-offs or use an idea embodied elsewhere. A famous case is of the movie Avatar, where its director David Cameron was dragged to court for allegedly copying the alien planet design from artwork and was successfully defended by him.


Trademarks – What, Why, and Until When?

While creativity may vest in designing a logo, just like artwork or writing a catchy slogan, these are not covered by the Copyrights Act. Any logo (The swoosh for Nike), brand-name (Coca-Cola), word (Classmate), label (Chanel), numerals (Forever 21) or even a combination of colours used (The blue, white, and red of Pepsi) qualifies to be a trademark.

Since a business uses all of these in its dealings, casting an impression of a certain standard of quality, the law prohibits anyone else from employing the same combination and give the impression that the goods belong to someone else.

Do Trademarks Have to Be Registered?

No and yes. Although a registered trademark is preferred as it comes in handy while battling out legalities in a court, even though a trademark may not be registered, it will still be given validity by looking at factors like its duration of existence, the value customers attach and its outreach. In case of a clash between two brand names – one registered and the other unregistered, the verdict of the court is often seen to tilt towards an older brand name even though it may be unregistered.

Registered trademarks are allowed to use the ® symbol. Though a trademark once registered, is valid forever, it must be renewed every 10 years.

Patents – Stents, Tents and Everything Tech

From medical equipment to scientific expedition tools and computer programs, technology surrounds us everywhere. A patent protects the way something is made, its process, its composition, the methodology of its creation. It covers all stages in the spectrum – from conceptualization to development and improvisation.

  • In India, a patent is granted for a period of twenty years
  • It is although advisable to file a patent as soon as possible, as claims in this regard are often decided on a ‘first to file basis
  • So, in case two people develop the same process independently, the one filing it first in the Patent Office has a superior claim
  • Moreover, in India, a patent grant takes on an average of five years from the initial filing. After the grant, the patentee may sell, license or assign the patent or make commercial use of the patent in his or her own interest
  • However, the government has enough power to obtain a patent and make it compulsorily licensed for use in the interest of the public.

Patents are meant to reward the first inventor to accrue distinct advantages that flow from the exclusivity of the patent. One of the most intriguing cases of patent infringement was the dispute between Apple and Samsung over the slide-to-unlock technology for their mobile phones. The case was settled last year in favour of Apple, after four years (strangely, by the time the case was finally adjudicated, the facial recognition and fingerprint unlocking had made the debate redundant).


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